How We Celebrate Day of the Dead

Living in Mexico, we celebrate Day of the Dead.

100_1612 - copiaThen again, we live in northern Mexico, so it isn’t celebrated here quite as much as it is farther south.  My neighbor (originally from Mexico City) is excited about making an altar for Day of the Dead in her house.  After nine years of living here, that will be the first house I will have visited with a full-blown altar.

My Take On It

Not being from Mexico, there are things I like about celebrating the day, some things I don’t like, and some things I frankly don’t understand.  I’ve written about some of those things before (also here and here).  In short, I love the fact that there is a day, every year, dedicated to remember those who are no longer with us.  When someone dies, we’re normally allowed to spend a week or so grieving.  That may or may not be enough time.  By setting aside a day every year, remembering the people we’ve lost, it’s easier to see our progress through the grieving process.  For those instances when we didn’t have enough time to grieve when a dear one died, these days give us a bit more.

I find that all a bit healthier than the US mentality, where we’re all in denial of death, and, by and large, oblivious to the grieving process.

How We Do It

Again, I’m not from here, so the most central part of celebrating the Day of the Dead–visiting graves of loved ones–is one I miss out on.  Instead, we make a small altar of our own at home.

937It started out simply enough, with photos of my grandparents and my husband’s grandparents.

Then I fell in love with sugar skulls.  The kids each have to have one.  So we buy them, keep them on the altar, and can finally eat them on November 3rd.  (It’s a great exercise in self-control!)  A bit below, I’ll explain a great faith formation exercise for kids with sugar skulls.

Then, in kindergarten the kids were asked to bring in papel picado.  Up until then, I had no idea where to find it.  All of a sudden, I found out that they’re sold in every papelería and really cheap!  I’m terrible at decorating my house (for any holiday), but papel picado makes decorating super-easy–as long as it’s not homemade!

The more Americanized things get here, the earlier pan de muerto hits the shelves in the grocery stores.  Now, it’s possible to find pan de muerto at the end of August.  It used to be impossible to get before October.  I used to buy pan de muerto as often as I went to the grocery store.  But then I wanted to up the ante for Day of the Dead, so I’d make it from scratch for the actual day.  I still haven’t found a recipe that I like–they all make good bread, but it just isn’t pan de muerto.

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This is last year’s attempt.  It was good (I baked it a little too long), but my idea that using the basic yeasted coffee cake recipe (with some orange flavoring) didn’t quite cut it.

 

Faith Formation Takeaways

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My kids are finally allowed to eat their sugar skulls on November 3rd.  Before they break into them, I remind them that the sugar skulls are symbols of death.  We break them with a small wooden mallet.  While doing this, I remind them that Jesus broke death’s power over us.

 

That’s pretty sweet, right?

 

And that, my friends, is why we can all get behind Day of the Dead.  We’ve all got people that we miss, who are no longer with us.  Most of us could use a regular time to continue to grieve for them (and for ourselves).

And it’s a great reminder that death isn’t the end of the story.  We can’t see the other side, but we know it’s there.

That makes all the difference in the world.

 

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For other reflections on All Saints’ Day, All Souls’ Day, and Explaining Death to Children, check out the Catholic Women’s Blogger Network’s Blog Hop this month!

2 Comments

  1. Hilary says:

    I never knew that about sugar skulls, how you break them to symbolize Jesus breaking the power of death, that is really neat! Thanks for explaining some of the traditions. I always found it kind of a creepy celebration, but your explanation gives me a lot more respect and admiration for it.

    1. Xanaidah says:

      Honestly, I’ve never known anyone to connect breaking sugar skulls to Jesus’s power over death–but we should! After all, when we borrow other traditions (like the prehispanic Day of the Dead . . . . used to be celebrated in the middle of summer until the Spanish came to the Americas when it fit in neatly with All Souls’ Day) and Christianize them, then we need to explain our use of those symbols (or the Christian take on those symbols). Otherwise, are we Christianizing pagan holidays or paganizing Christian holidays? Originally, incorporating celebrations from other cultures, is a good way to evangelize . . . until we start to wonder just who is evangelizing who! 😉 It’s just one way to keep All Souls’ Day in Day of the Dead.

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