Celebrating “Dia De Los Muertos”
At midnight tonight, the spirits of the dead will dwell with us.
We will honor and welcome the spirits of our deceased loved ones by gathering together with our very-much-still-alive loved ones for the next two or three days.
Together, we’ll celebrate by building ofrendas. And on these ofrendas we’ll place items that remind us of our lost friends and relatives. We’ll honor their memory with our memories of their lives as we sit around our houses, play cards, play games, listen to music and reminisce about times past.
In fact, we’ll celebrate so richly, with so many people, so many games, so much food and so many colorful decorations that we’ll spend two months worth of our yearly income on our feasts with family and friends.
We’ll celebrate so fully, so genuinely in remembering the dead that we’ll create life.
And we’d do all of this if we lived in Mexico and celebrated Dia de los Muetros, the Day of the Dead.
Actually, though, if we (as the enlightened of the first world) lived in Mexico we’d probably condemn the whole national holiday as naive, bordering sinful.
1.) We’d condemn the fact that venerating the dead is a plight of the third-world amalgamation between supernaturalism and the occult.
2.) We’d joke about the stupidity of spending two months of your income on three days of partying. How prodigious.
3.) The evangelicals would remind those ignorant Mexicans that the spirits of the dead are either in heaven or hell, and can’t *really* come back to earth for a short vacation … in fact, anything that does come back is probably demonic.
4.) Or, if we were a religious materialist, we’d poke fun at the whole antiquated idea of spirits, the afterlife and their supposed visitation of us.
5.) And then we’d condemn the whole holiday and everyone who participated in it.
But, I really wonder if this holiday is all bad?
Sure, it’s not healthy to look at the dead as needing appeasement via food offerings, etc. Neither is it healthy to worship the deceased (in which case, funeral directors would be priests?).
But, I think the Mexican’s relationship to death is healthier than the Wests.
Here, we internalize our memories, hardly ever sharing and never remembering in a corporate setting.
Here, we mourn silently, never recognizing that in some way, in some capacity, whether literally or figuratively, the dead still dwell with us. That in us — in the present state of all humanity — lays the heritage of humanity’s past. In you, the reality of the past is still very much present. But in the West, we ignore that presence of the past, where in Mexico its celebrated.
Sure, maybe some of the practices on The Day of the Dead are worthy of condemnation. But, not celebrating, not remembering, not joining together in a corporate setting to conjure up the lives of old … not doing these things condemns our future.
Over the next couple days, I want to join with the hundreds of millions around the world and solemnly celebrate both All Saints Day (Nov. 1) and All Souls Days (Nov. 2). Unless you’re Catholic, these religious holidays might not be familiar to you. But they underscore a healthy relationship to the past that most of us have both neglected and forgotten.
And, in the spirit of joining in this Mexican holiday, and in anticipating the beginning of a small, but intentional solemn celebration here at my blog over the next two days, I have two questions for you: in what ways do the spirits of your past friends and relatives dwell with you? What heritage have they left you that lives on in you today?