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el dia de los muertos

October 4, 2011

a portion of our Day of the Dead altar

Here we are at last year's El Dia de los Muertos celebration

Today we created our El Dia de los Muertos altar. This is a ritual I have come to love so much over the past years. In our town, there is a lively month-long Day of the Dead celebration that encompasses and integrates both the Latino and non-Latino communities. Bridging groups of people that are sometimes separated is just one benefit of this beautiful time. I love knowing that I can connect with loved ones who have passed away every year. According to tradition, the veil between worlds is thinnest at this time of year and on the second of November, the dead come to visit. Families and friends can entice them in by making altars containing their photos and favorite things. Incense and marigold, which supposedly has the scent of bones, is also an enticement. Food and drinks can be added too, especially favorites of the deceased.

Our ancestors form the center of our altar and dearly missed and loved friends circle around. The altars and the events are a time to connect spiritually with the ones we miss and also with the entire community in the context of remembrance. Additionally, it is a reminder that death comes to us all and is a normal part of life.

When death is part of a yearly cultural tradition, death becomes much less mysterious and scary. In the United States, we usually do not mention death, and if we do, it is with great seriousness and fear. Fear that people do not want to talk about it, fear that it will bring up memories of the person and we will be to blame for causing grief again. But really, most of the time, we are already thinking about our loved ones who have passed on and may really want to talk about them. We miss them and enjoy being together again through remembrance. And so Day of the Dead is a way to do that. We place photos of them in our homes in a sacred space, see them with their favorite things, and gather with our community to collectively speak and celebrate the memory of those we still love, in serious and not-so serious ways. And it’s once a year, so we need not feel that the memorial was the last time we all remembered collectively, we can continue our connection, renewing our love and the bonds of family and friendship in a larger, comforting community context.

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