Dia De Los Muertos Its always fascinating to peep behind the curtains of history and see the foundations for some of our oldest customs, our most cherished beliefs: Easter Eggs and Bunny Rabbits, Valentines and Christmas trees. In Europe, some of these customs are layered under so many thousands of years, sometimes twisted up with dogma and politics, that the foundations are difficult to lay bare. To Look at the melding of two cultures, European and Native American for Dia De los Muertos shows just how accommodating both cultures can be. Here on the Central Coast we have a great opportunity, because of our long exposure to many cultures, to enjoy the richness that ensues.
November 1 is All Saints Day for the Catholic and Episcopal Church Calendars. Most of us may know that day better as the day after All Hallows Eve, when goblins and ghosties come out to play and the candy companies make huge amounts of money. But in Mexico, especially in southern Mexico, November 1 and 2 are Dias de los Muertos, The Days of the Dead. Just as when the first Priests came to Europe to Christianize the heathens in the 400 A.D.s, The first priests to come to Mexico christened in a lot of local beliefs as well. All Saints Day came to include two days during which the spirits of the dead were welcomed back and celebrated.
On November 1 the spirits of the very young, infants and children, visit. Tiny sugar skulls, brightly decorated, along with intricately cut tissue paper banners (papel picado), are set out on tables along with cocoa and clean water and any other things especially beloved by the deceased. The idea is to nourish the soul after its long journey and make it welcome. Bright Marigolds and Coxcomb flowers are everywhere. Graves are cleaned and decorated with flowers. Its considered lucky to have someone beloved to visit with and to share the hopes for the coming year.
On November 2, the tables, called Offrendas, are cleared of the tiny sugar skulls and adult-sized skulls are put out, along with Mescal or other beverages more likely to be appreciated by the visiting soul. If the deceased loved a particular sport or food you might put symbols of that on the offrenda. Often villagers spend months worth of salary welcoming loved ones and build very ornate offrendas. The celebration involves the whole family, who spend the night at the cemetery reminiscing about family members and cleaning up the graves. Its a wonderful way to pay tribute to those who have passed and for young ones to learn their family history.
Not the last, lovers also celebrate this time, trading ornately decorated sugar and chocolate skulls and poetry. The impermanence of life, love and happiness always makes for lovely poetry.There has grown up a large body of Dia de La Muertos art as well.Perhaps best known for this genre is Jose Guadelupe Posada, although his figures were meant to be mocking the excesses of the upper classes of his time.His Catarina has come to symbolize Dia de los Muertos for most of us. She has a wonderful leering grin and brightens up dull fall days remarkably.
So on the second of November, if you happen to find yourself thinking particularly kind thoughts of a loved one, you might just want to go to a local Farmers market and buy some Marigolds.
By Abigail Kreiss