Friday, November 2, 2007

Day of The Dead

My soul is full of whispered song;
My blindness is my sight;
The shadows that I feared so long
Are all alive with light.

~Alice Cary, Dying Hymn

The day which we fear as our last is but the birthday of eternity.


Today, November 2, is my birthday. On my Catholic calendar it is All Soul’s Day.

In Mexico it marks one of the most anticipated and lively celebrations of the year…. El Día De Los Muertos or the Day of The Dead.

People have likened it to our Halloween. But it is entirely different. Halloween is meant to be scary and spooky. Although the name "Day of The Dead" sounds morbid and somber, it's purpose is to celebrate and rejoice and honor departed loved ones. And all across Mexico it is celebrated by fireworks, altar building, native dance, religious processions and all night cemetery vigils.

The Day of the Dead observances began in pre-Hispanic Mexico, and stemmed from the indigenous beliefs shared by the Aztecs, Mayans, and other ancient cultures. According to their ancient beliefs the souls of the deceased return to earth annually to visit living relatives and eat and drink with them. These ancient cultures all celebrated the return of the departed with festivals and fanfare.

Unlike the Spaniards, who viewed death as the end of life, the natives viewed it as a continuation. They embraced death. Today the Day of The Dead represents a blending of ancient pre Hispanic indigenous and Roman Catholic traditions and beliefs.

Families make special altars in their homes, as well as decorate the graves to honor the deceased loved ones. The altars and graves are elaborately decorated with all manner of offerings including: fresh marigolds, photos of the deceased, statues of saints, favorite foods of the deceased, special Day of the Dead bread, candles, and belongings of the deceased.

November 1, is the day to honor the deceased children, whose altars and gravesites include gifts of candies and toys.

Then on November 2 families gather at gravesites for an all night candle light vigil. They sit on picnic blankets and eat the favorite foods of loved ones. Some play music, some dance and sing, some don wooden skull masks called “calacas”. All to call home and honor the loved ones.

I’ve read a great deal about this special holiday. And, although I have not yet had the opportunity to experience this beautiful tradition in person, I get the feeling that the Mexicans may possibly have lifted a corner of the veil of death and glimpsed eternity.

Peace and Love
Gypsy Girl


Anonymous said...

I applaud cultures that maintain a positive attitude towards death. Your second quote sums it up for me nicely ~ the birthday of eternity. :o)

Gypsy Girl said...

Thanks for the comment Lori. A positive attitude toward life AND death is nice. Exploring other cultures, rituals and traditions can be fascinating and fun.

Babs said...

I hope for you that you make it a point to see the Panteons of Michoacan some day. It is "life altering" is the "purest" show of love, respect, and reflection I have ever experienced!

Gypsy Girl said...

babs, I hope so too, it is on my list of travels for next year.