Why we should all celebrate the day of the dead //
What do you do throughout the year to honor people in your family who have died? Do you mark their birthday? Deathiversary (yes, that’s a thing)? Do you gather together with others to remember and share the love that person?
Maybe you do, maybe you did something like this for the 1st year of life without them – but I would venture to say that you don’t and that generally, American culture is more comfortable pretending these days don’t need permanence in our calendar.
Disney/Pixar has captured my attention with their new film, Coco. This movie focuses on The Day of the Dead or, Dia de los Muertos, and the continuing bond that exists between the worlds of the living and of the dead. The holiday is celebrated widely in Mexican cultures from October 31st – November 2nd with activities ranging from making altars for the dead, praying for them, honoring their memory with the creation of calaveras (the small painted skulls) and bringing these and other gifts of Aztec marigolds and their favorite foods to the graves of their dead relatives.
It can’t just be me, this is a crazy-beautiful tradition, right?! Can you imagine what it must be like to see a cemetery lit at night by beautiful lights, families gathered together, buckets of dark orange flowers and tasty foods? It doesn’t sound all that sad to me, it sounds like a beautiful and warm ritual. Not necessarily a happy one, but a rich and meaningful one.
Why we don’t celebrate it: I think without structures like these, people just don’t feel the permission or courage to ask for or create such a ritual. Left to their own imagination, a day celebrating the dead likely sounds very sad and lonely – which is I think the reason why so many people are afraid to mark anniversaries. If a community isn’t right there with us, or a premeditated day set aside, we will almost definitely miss some of the magic of memory and healing that the day could hold.
Why we should: There are so many things I admire about this and so many things I think our society as a whole would benefit from if these days existed on the American calendar the way they do in Mexico. Here’s what I find truly amazing about them:
Firstly, and most profoundly, they look death in the face. They acknowledge ANNUALLY the losses to their family by setting aside private places in their homes adorned with photographs, flowers, and favorite possessions of their loved one. There is a bravery, a permanence, and a structure that this creates for families in mourning. The fear of forgetting is gone, the guilt of not doing something cannot exist, the relationship with the deceased is not lost.
The second piece I love about this is the community experience of gathering. Coming together publicly to remember your own loss and recognize that you are not alone in your grief. You have your family, but there are also so many other families than you would imagine that are walking a similar path. We forget that so often in grief and it is such a helpful thing to remember.
Thirdly, the most touching aspect of this for me is the way that these rituals keep alive a connection between us and our deceased loved ones. In the film, Coco, there is a tear-jerking image of a couple from the other side looking back out at their living relatives with pride and tears in their eyes. (Ah, how does Disney/Pixar do it?) The visual for me, of that maintained connection is so beautiful. I see the small child in the foreground and think about taking my daughter this year to the resting places of my grandparents, bringing with us little pumpkins and flowers to leave with them. In this way, the dead stay with us, tethered by memory and love.
If the Dia de los Muertos celebration isn’t part of your heritage, it can be. It can be as simple as carving a pumpkin with the initials of someone you are missing and lighting a candle within for them. It doesn’t need to be the all-out 3 days, or something that is inauthentically you but you should find something to do annually to remember your loved ones.
For many of our families, that event has become our Annual Candlelight Service of Remembrance. This special evening shows photos of the people we remember, offers words of guidance through the upcoming year, and ends with a beautiful candle-lighting tribute that our families participate in. It’s an incredible evening – it’s tough – there is crying, but everyone leaves so relieved and blessed for having made the effort.
So, if that sounds like something good to you, come this year. It’s open to anyone who wants it. Please email me personally (email@example.com) if you have questions or would like to attend. The details are below and we would love to have you.
Candlelight Service of Remembrance, Tuesday, December 5 at 7pm
Chapel at Mariners Church – 5001 Newport Coast Drive, Irvine 92603
RSVP and submit photo for the tribute by Friday, November 17th to firstname.lastname@example.org or call (949) 581-4300