Sunday, November 02, 2008

Dia de Los Muertos

Me dressed as La Catrina last Halloween

It's finally time for the Dia de Bloglandia blogger's celebration! I hope I'm getting this up in time for everyone 'round the globe to visit. Wee grandbabies and teens and chihuahuas and visiting granddogs and family Dia de Los Muertos planning all take time, time, and more time, so I'm sitting here late at night hoping my party post will be at least reasonably coherent, typos kept to the minimum. The lamp light, warm cats cuddled by my side, the soft pattering of raindrops is creating a quiet, island of reflection on a rare rainy night.....

I haven't always celebrated Dia de Los Muertos, the Day of the Dead. In fact, I didn't even know about the holiday until some time in the last.... well, I don't remember when I first heard of it. All I know is that I've celebrated it for enough years that what started out feeling like wearing somebody elses shoes now fits like an old favorite pair of slippers.

The first thing that drew my interest was discovering the odd and joyful art that is associated with the holiday - the frighteningly adorable skeletons, the bright folk colors. I also liked how the rituals and traditions embraced a lot of favorite parts of both my Catholic childhood and my adult pagan beliefs. Since I have always loved the traditions of Halloween - the candy, the scary stories, the costumes, the grinning jack-o-lanterns, I eventually came to think of Dia de Los Muertos as the perfect way to enjoy the secular activities of Halloween and carve a new and separate space and time for the more spiritual aspects of this autumn season that I yearned for but often found shoved to the side in all the busyness of having fun.

Now, that's not to say that Dia de Los Muertos isn't fun. It's bright colors and families gathering, it's hot cinnamon spiced cocoa and sugar skulls. It's decorations and candles and laughing and story telling and dumb suppers enjoyed with everyone invited, those still with us in the flesh and those with us in spirit.

As someone who has lost many beloved family members and friends, I've come to realize first hand how important it is to be able to continue to remember them in comfortable and happy ways that move past the initial grief and sadness. Relationships, as most of you probably have also discovered, are hardly over after a loved one dies. The sum of our relationship includes all the time before death and all the time since that person's passing. The period wrapped around the death is usually a time soaked in pain and grief, confusion, numbness, fear, and loss. But to remember only that stretch of our relationship is a cruel punishment for both us and for the one we love. More important is all the love and memories, laughter, perhaps conflicts and growth, that we shared with each other.

I certainly remember my loved ones more often than a single holiday a year. If the truth be told, I think of most of them each and every day. I talk with them. Some of them even talk back. I'm reminded of moments shared. But the Day of the Dead rituals allows us to be with our loved ones in a way that's more public, more concrete and acknowledged ways than our small private moments.

Think of a living friend or family member that, because of distance or busy schedules, you rarely see. Something happens, maybe a wedding, a trip, a phone call, and suddenly we find a bit of time carved out to be together. Often we leave that time spent together feeling warm and full and joyful in a way we forgot was possible. We think "How come we let so much time go by since we last spent time together?!" We tell each other that we won't let months or years go by before we get together again. Sometimes we are serious enough to make more of an effort. But probably, more typically, life gets busy, time slips by, good intentions are, well, good intentions and we end up letting long stretches of time roll out again.

Well, it's the same with our departed friends and family. Life is busy and we let time spent thinking and reflecting and laughing about old times get squeezed and snipped until those moments are more "sound bites" than they are the real stories, the heart of our memories. Having a day when everyone agrees to set aside our busy regular schedule in favor of a long, happy chat with those we miss ensures we don't miss visiting with them, remembering how much they shaped our lives, were apart of our lives, are still a part of our lives whether they've been gone a year, or ten years, or forty years.

For those of us who live in communities that don't collectively recognize Dia de Los Muertos, we often have to work to create personal or family traditions that work independently. Our family has no nearby family graves to visit or decorate, no extended family nearby living or dead, so we have focused on creating annual dumb suppers. This is where we cook and gather the foods and drink our ancestors or departed family enjoyed and, setting a plate for them at the table, invite our departed and ancestors to join us. Some years we add ritual, other years it's a simpler affair. Regardless, the conversation around the table is always full of laughter and perhaps a few teary eyes. We also set up an altar with photos, flowers, candles, symbols and whatever needs to be included, either directly at the table or on a nearby space where it can stay up awhile.

Another aspect of the holiday I appreciate is the acceptance and acknowledgement of life and death as partners. You can't have one without the other. It seems our mainstream culture tries very hard to get us to forget this. We focus on life and youth and hide aging and death and tragedy behind the scenes. And yet hiding death doesn't seem to make any of us any more comfortable with the inevitable. If anything it seems to make it more frightening and unknown.

A quirky Halloween tradition our family has embraced is Graveyard Pudding. I tried to find a photo from past years but, alas, couldn't find one. But imagine chocolate pudding covered in Oreo cookie "dirt". A few gummy worms or sometimes candy bones sprinkled on top. And stuck in each individual serving bowl, a gravestone shaped cookie with the name of each family member written across it. It's a bit disconcerting, seeing ones name on a gravestone, and yet the family looks forward to the holiday treat every year.

In fact, this year I was so busy that I let Halloween slip by without it and today William asked me when were we going to make it. He didn't care about missing Halloween (he had a football game on the night of the 31st), he didn't care about going to the pumpkin patch or carving a jack-o-lantern or picking a costume. He only missed this one seemingly unimportant part of the season. I assured him I had picked up all the ingredients and would be happy to make it and midsentence I suddenly realized that it was actually more of a Dia de Los Muertos tradition than it was a Halloween one and it would be a great addition to our dumb supper tonight.

Very exciting, after years of searching, I finally found some gravestone shaped cookie cutters this fall, so last night I made my very first homemade gravestones! Today we'll be setting up an altar, cooking up some favorite foods, making graveyard pudding, and spending time around the table. It will probably be one of the smaller celebrations as Hubby and William both have to work and Joli and Lisa I are making the most of our time together before they have to leave early tomorrow morning. Sniff. But smaller is fine. Another important thing the Day of the Dead reminds us of is how important it is to prioritize spending time together with those we love while we are still on this earth together, building all those blessed memories that make the gift of life and death worth all the work.

I know, this was a party, perhaps I should have simply offered you some pretty photos of altars and steaming mugs of chocolate instead of this wordy pondering. But it felt right, to reflect on my love of this special day. I'll probably have those altar and cocoa photos for you later though so, I hope you stop back by again soon.

Day of the Dead ACEO's I made last year.

And while I have your attention, I want to let you know I'm hosting a Magical Yule artist's swap for the upcoming winter holiday season! Please click on over to my studio blog to find out more about the creative fun. Or scroll down to the post below this one to find a link directly to the swap guidelines post.

Also, don't forget to click on the Dia de Bloglandia button in my sidebar to visit other bloggers celebrating today.


Blogger glorv1 said...

Thank you Laume for sharing. I really loved your words and so very true.

6:18 AM  
Blogger PLO said...

Wow! I wish I could articulate myself like you did. I related to your statement about Dia de Los Meurtos combining the rituals of a Catholic upbringing...and adult pagan belief....DITTO!

7:26 AM  
Blogger Viki said...

I enjoyed your words and the feelings behind them.
Thank you for sharing.

7:30 AM  
Anonymous Mo'a said...

Wonderful words of sharing.
Ones life should be well as the lives of our loved ones who are no longer with us.

7:35 AM  
Blogger Stephanie said...

How beautiful of you to share these personal moments! I am nearly in tears moved by your words. AND...YOU, I remember this Catrina from last year, fantastic!

Thank you so much for being part of this Dia de Bloglandia celebration!!


7:38 AM  
Blogger Leau said...

Perfect phrase, life and death as partners!

8:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your love for the holiday not only reflected in your words...but in your costume! Fantastic!

9:36 AM  
Blogger rachel whetzel said...

Great explainations!! I love your family's traditions around the season!

10:20 AM  
Blogger 3rdEyeMuse said...

your words spoken so heartfelt and truthfully were more than enough of a contribution to this most festive occasion ... and last years ATC's a perfect touch!

Happy Dia de los Muertos!

12:31 PM  
Blogger Fireblossom said...

Happy Dia de los Muertos and thank you so much for stopping by the Word Garden! :-)

4:32 PM  
Anonymous tami said...

I'm relatively new to dia de los muertos - your words explained a lot of what I feel. i like it that we can each celebrate in a way that fits our life and beliefs. I find it a very comforting and personal day.

Thanks for sharing.

5:13 PM  
Blogger Debbie said...

I totally enjoyed and agree with your "wordy pondering". I wish I were half as articulate as you :) You make a great Catrina!

7:54 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

That picture of you is really cool. I know what you mean about not being able to visit with living loved ones as often as you'd like. Your traditions old and new are interesting. Thanks for sharing them.

7:12 AM  
Blogger Yoli said...

Wonderful costume!!! great job with your Dia de Los Muertos.

7:33 AM  
Blogger Marilyn said...

Thank you for a wonderful visit...I appreciate so much everything you wrote and your photo as Catrina is great!

8:54 AM  
Anonymous amy said...

Great post and information! I love the costume from last year too it's so cool.

9:23 AM  
Blogger Du Buh Du Designs said...

Your post was wonderful to read. I haven't lost those dearest to me yet, but I know when that time comes I will have this tradition as a way of remembering them Thank you for a most thoughtful post and for explaining the meaningful aspects of this event. Love your Catrina Costume!!

1:57 PM  
Blogger Sacred Yoli said...

Mmmmmmm, did you say chocolate pudding? Everything is fine with chocolate pudding. I don't blame your son for checking you. hee.

Thanks again for stopping by my lil blog and much love and respect to your familia.

Yoli Manzo

5:07 PM  
Anonymous susanna said...

Great post! And those ACEO's are terrific! I really like them. Btw, what does ACEO stand for?

PS: I've added a link to you on my Dia de Bloglandia post. :)

6:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is Wonderful! I'm so glad you took the time to write out your thoughts about Dia de los Muertos. It parallels a lot that I have been thinking lately, but you put it all much better than I ever could. Thanks!

5:37 PM  
Blogger Mary said...

I really love the things you shared about your family traditions and your celebration of Dia de los Muertos. This was the first year I created an altar, prompted by Dia de Bloglandia. It will be a continuing tradition, as I expand it to include my other dearly departed.

Thank you so much for your sweet comment on my blog. I think Michael would have really liked you!

6:39 PM  

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