Living in Mexico, we celebrate Day of the Dead.
Then 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.
It 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.
Faith Formation Takeaways
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.
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!