Day of the Dead: Celebrating the Lives of Those Who Have Passed

Reflections on The Day of the Dead

Melissa Gosselin

Happy Wednesday, everyone! I hope you all had an amazing Halloween. Personally, I absolutely love this time of year. I love getting trick-or-treaters — seeing parents take out their toddlers for the first time. I love the decorations, seeing our neighbours make elaborate mazes and haunted houses. I love seeing people’s creative family costumes — especially when their pets are included! But today I want to talk about another tradition, one my dad and I borrowed from this year — Día de los muertos, The Day of the Dead, a Mexican holiday that takes place between October 31st and November 2nd. 

Since my parents started spending months at a time in Mexico, I’ve become increasingly fascinated with Día de los muertos. For those of you who don’t know, it’s a day when Mexican families make offerings (called ofrendas) on an altar to their loved ones who have passed. I’ve always loved the idea of celebrating life rather than mourning death — loved the idea that memories keep people alive.

While researching for this blog post, I learned some things I didn’t know. I learned that November 1st is Día de los angelitos (Day of the Little Angels)— when all the deceased children come — and November 2nd is the day of  deceased adults. I also learned that these gatherings are also about the living. Families gather, share food and tell stories — there’s even an aspect of the tradition where they create funny epitaphs or poems for living family members, even public figures, and these are called Calavera literarias (Literary Skulls). Right up my alley!

My mom used to love Día de los muertos. My parents were often in Mexico during the celebration. Mom had her own calavera (the decorative skulls they use at the altars) and she would always include favourite drinks and food. Her altars were always beautiful, tastefully decorated with pictures and candles. She always remembered little details like favourite kinds of beer, candy and chocolate bars. When she passed away, we stopped doing them. 

But my dad was inspired to create an altar in our home this year. It was after I went to the cemetery to visit my mom. I’d noticed that someone had left a bottle of red wine (apparently also a tradition from Día de los muertos, leaving food or drinks at someone’s final resting place), and I was so touched by the gesture that I took a picture and sent it to my dad. This is what inspired him to create his own ofrenda.

Dad included four people on his altar: my mom, his dad (my grandpapa), my mom’s mom (my Nan) and his sister (my matante). He put out four candles with their pictures on them, adorned the space with fall leaves and a Mexican calavera (the decorative skull) that used to belong to my mom. He put out chocolates, beer, wine, soft drinks — even a cup of tea. 

And we have felt their presence more these last couple of days. This may be coincidence, a mind playing tricks or an old house creaking, but my dad swears her heard footsteps upstairs one morning. More than that though, we've been inspired to include our deceased loved ones in everyday discussions. Things like: Remember how mom used to make Halloween gift bags for all the kids on our street? Remember how we’d always make  sure to have ice cream when Grandpapa would visit? Or even just wondering what their thoughts would be on certain family events. 

I used to ask myself: How am I ever supposed to live without my mom? And maybe the answer is that I don’t have to. She can always be a part of the fabric of our lives, not just once a year. Of course, I’m happy to take any opportunity to celebrate her life.

Do you have any stories about Día de los muertos? How do you celebrate the lives of loved ones who have passed? Let me know in the comments below. 

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