One of my family’s favorite traditions is celebrating the Mexican Holiday el Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead. Have you heard of it? It’s gaining in popularity here in the United States and I think it’s a great tradition to start with your family.
So what is it? Dia de los Muertos is celebrated November 1st – 2nd in Mexico, and many other Latin American countries, to remember and honor loved ones who have passed away. I learned all about the Holiday when my family moved to Mexico City when I was in 8th grade and I fell in love with the sentiment behind the Holiday, as well as the festivities and colorful folk art that goes along with it.
My father worked for a company that transferred us to Mexico while I was growing up and during my first October in Mexico City, I got to see a beautiful transformation in the city. All of sudden every little store and street vendor had candy skulls or Calaveras for sale. The paper stores started displaying the colorful papel picado – or cut out tissue paper “flags” that show elaborately dressed skeletons enjoying various daily scenes of life. The fresh flower stalls suddenly had tons of yellow marigolds in stock and elaborate floral arrangements on display. Stores had little Day of the Dead shrines or altars set up to show you how to build your own at home. These “altars” are not for worshipping, they are colorful, fun, physical reminder of the people you miss.
While Day of the Dead may sound a little morbid to some, there is nothing spooky about it. The Mexican culture embraces death as just another aspect of life. It is not to be feared and can be openly talked about. And even when you are gone, you are not truly gone if someone remembers you. Here in the U.S., we tend to silently mourn for our dead loved ones. Once the funeral is over, the grieving and remembrance becomes a private affair. So I love that in Mexico, there is a specific day to share memories.
To celebrate, you host a fiesta serving your loved one’s favorite food, maybe playing their favorite music. You can build a Day of the Dead shrine with pictures of your loved ones and other objects that represent what they loved most in life. It is thought that the spirits of your dead loved ones come and share in this party. Whether you believe that or not, Day of the Dead is a great way to remember the special moments you had with someone special who is gone.
So, even though I am not Mexican, we celebrate. We cook a special dinner in honor of Grandpa and even our pets. They are an important part of our family and the kids want to remember them, too. We make their favorite foods, display photos, and share funny stories to help keep their memories alive. The kids love it. And, of course, we decorate with fabulous bright colors, candy skulls, and have tons of food to eat. In the past few years we have been inviting friends over for a Day of the Dead dinner. We ask each guest to bring a photo of a loved one and we go around the table sharing photos and stories.
This has become an important tradition in our house because it’s a great opportunity to talk about death in a positive way. Our loved ones may be gone, but they are still with us in spirit, which makes death less scary for the kids. It’s a great way to teach our kids what Grandpa was like, since he passed away before they were born. It bring us closer together sitting around the table laughing, remembering who we miss, and spending together as a family making the Day of the Dead altar and picking the right photos to use. But most importantly, we have fun. “Don’t fear dying, fear not having lived.”
If you want more information about this Holiday, check out my tips on How to Celebrate Day of the Dead with your Family, How to Make Paper Calaveras as an Easy Craft for Kids, and 5 Great Kids Books on Day of the Dead.
Do you celebrate Day of the Dead? How? If not, how do you remember the loved ones that you miss?
Sue Kirchner is a family fun coach, kids party planner, and weekly contributor to Patch.com. Sue and her family fun ideas have been featured on TV, newspapers, magazines, blogs, as well as her own family fun site ChocolateCakeMoments.com.