Día de Muertos is a traditional Mexican celebration whose goal is to embrace the lives of people no longer with us. It is a way of building a tribute to love, memory, and culture. Although this is one of the most popular celebrations regarding death, many other cultures have similar dates destined for this rite as well.
In Mexico, there are many traditions around Día de los Muertos. Altars are built, candles are lit, a special selection of colors is made, and exclusive Day of the Dead recipes are prepared. It’s common to see people dressed as Catrinas or dolls impersonating the skeleton character during processions where everyone dances, eats, and shares memories.
Turning Grief Into Memories, Unexpressed Love, And Celebration
Andrew Garfield said when talking about his mom passing away. “I love talking about her, so if I cry it is only the unexpressed love. The grief that will remain with us (…) because we never get enough time with each other.”
It is true. When you love someone, you never get enough time with that person. And what better way to commemorate those who are no longer with us, than to celebrate their lives, experiences, and favorite memories?
You do not need to literally take the elements of the Mexican tradition if they do not resonate with you, but you can still embrace the spirit of the festivity, right? The question is, where should we begin?
I consider four elements to be a must in this “self-made” celebration that pays a respectful homage to the Día de los Muertos’ traditions. (Believe it or not, cultural appropriation happens a lot during these festivities, but that is something that we will not be addressing today). So, grab a pen and paper, and let’s start with the four musts:
Candles are portables of light. They used to be key elements when keeping a house warm and light before electricity was invented. Now, they serve as mare decoration, but the essence of the fire and the light in the dark still remains. Candles are beautiful elements that guide us when darkness prevails, they hold a strong symbolism as guides that enable us to see. So, when welcoming the spirits of the dead, aren’t they crucial?
- Photographs Of Your Loved Ones
With today’s technology, most of our pictures (if not all of them) are digital pieces inside our cell phones. But, being a special day, how does it sound to make your selection and print them? Look for old albums from your parents and grandparents (believe me, they must have two or three), and choose pictures that mean something to you. They do not need to be under any context, just mean something to you when you see them. Grab the paper pictures and put them in places where you can see them, even near the candles (be careful there!). It is a beautiful way of holding on to the memories.
- Special Home-Cooked Recipes
Who doesn’t enjoy a good meal? And what about those special meals that you used to share with that person? Whether it’s a hamburger and fries at a fast food chain restaurant or a homemade recipe passed down generations, whatever the memory, you can replicate that recipe at home already surrounded by pictures and candles. Food awakens most if not every of our senses. Flavor and smell take us back to that place, even touching and listening to the food being made can awaken special moments not forgotten but not daily visited either. Dare to cook a down-memory-lane meal. I promise it will make the moment more than special.
- Adding Your Own Symbolism
Día de los Muertos holds its own symbols like Pan de Muerto, Tamales, the cempasúchil, the color choice, the altar, and the Catrinas. These symbols have a meaning within Mexican culture and its way of embracing a day such as this.
But there’s no need to replicate that. I invite you to choose your colors (you already have the recipes, the candles, and the pictures), choose how you want to style yourself and your outfit, and build an altar that represents your own way of opening the door to the loved ones now visiting this realm. In the Tarot world, those who know the cards say that you are the one who gives the power of symbolism to the deck, so why should this be any different? After all, we are the ones who choose what each symbol represents to us and our culture. As always you perform your celebration with respect for yourself and others, symbols are infinite.
The Day of the Dead is a beautiful festivity known to be celebrated in Mexico, but as mentioned at the beginning you’ll find many countries and cultures celebrating the veil between the living and the dead going down at least for a couple of days. Fear not. Light a candle, grab your favorite dish, and dance around. It is time to embrace the moment we are going through, and the moments and people that still hold on to our memories.