Dia de los Muertos Reminds Us: Celebrate Those We’ve Lost
Written by Jacque Mingle
When a personal representative or trustee – and those of us who represent them — carry out a decedent’s estate plan (or work to divvy up assets without a plan via the intestacy statutes), it can be a challenge to marshal the assets, interpret the documents, communicate to beneficiaries, and sometimes struggle with beneficiaries, creditors, and/or the legal system.
It can be hard work, and in tracking every receipt and document, it can be difficult to remember the point of it all. With Dia de los Muertos upon us, we are reminded that from time to time, it is important to stop and simply honor the dead.
The Mexican “Day of the Dead” honors the lives of those who have died in celebration — food, drink, parties, and activities that the dead enjoyed in life. The tradition holds that on that day, those who have died are permitted to return to share the celebrations with their loved ones.
Traditionally, the celebration takes place over three days, as Frances Ann Day explained in Latina and Latino Voices in Literature: “On October 31, All Hallows Eve, the children make a children’s altar to invite the angelitos (spirits of dead children) to come back for a visit. November 1 is All Saints Day, and the adult spirits will come to visit. November 2 is All Souls Day, when families go to the cemetery to decorate the graves and tombs of their relatives. The three-day fiesta filled with marigolds, the flowers of the dead; muertos (the bread of the dead); sugar skulls; cardboard skeletons; tissue paper decorations; fruit and nuts; incense, and other traditional foods and decorations.”
Common manifestations of the festivities are altars (or ofrendas) honoring the dead with flowers, food, drink, mementos, photos, and the like. And calacas and calaveras (skeletons and skulls) happily enjoying life as candy, masks, dolls, figurines, t-shirts, and more.
Many American cities heavily influenced by Mexican culture have their own Day of the Dead-style celebrations. Tucson’s own All Souls Procession is Sunday, November 3, one of several local events inspired by Dia de los Muertos. (Tohono Chul and the Tuscon Museum of Art are two more.)
The All Souls Procession is not strictly a Dia de los Muertos event; it’s intended to be inclusive of any tradition – and organizers encourage creating new traditions. Procession organizers note that there have been participants who express Japanese Buddhist rituals, the Christian Feast of All Souls, and the Chinese Qingming Festival. That can make it appealing for those of us who come from different backgrounds but long to come together with others to collectively remember the loved ones we’ve lost.
The Procession, now in its 24th year, winds through downtown, lead by “The Urn,” a vessel in which people put mementos, prayers, messages, and remembrances of those who have died. The Urn’s contents are burned in the finale: “the hopes, prayers, love, grief, memories, tributes, and remembrances are consumed by the flames and dissolve into the ether.” The finale also features music, dancing, and more. It’s all free, though donations are accepted. (The details: http://www.allsoulsprocession.org/)
Such a public display of remembrance is not for everyone, obviously. Having lost my husband’s sister just a few months ago, my family will be remembering “Auntie Beth” and other loved ones we’ve lost in quieter ways by doing the things they loved. We’ll watch some Kansas State football (to honor Grandpa Jack and GrandJohn), do some bargain shopping (like Auntie Beth and my Nana), and all go out for pizza (all of the above, except Nana, who probably would have preferred to try out a new recipe on us). We’ll have a grand time honoring them, and if their spirits are back for a visit, they’ll have a grand time, too.
More on Dia de los Muertos
A musical tribute: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_AqerAZuUZo
Recipes and more, from an NPR report: http://www.npr.org/2013/10/25/240778388/death-becomes-whimsical-on-dia-de-los-muertos