While we would like to pretend otherwise, death will come to all. Día de los Muertos, Day of the Dead, originated in Mexico. The festivities honor those who have gone before and marks life’s end as an occasion for hope and cheer. Celebrated annually from 31 October to 2 November, the holiday corresponds to Halloween, All Saints, and All Souls days. Rather than a somber affair, Día de los Muertos is a sensory feast filled with color, music, and food.
Many prefer to avoid the subject of death until they have no choices, which leaves a funeral or memorial service as the primary post-mortem ritual in the United States. Those services honor departed loved ones, with a caveat: the honored guest is absent. Día de los Muertos embraces a spiritual wisdom that recognizing that loved ones’ bodies may be gone, but spirit persists. The celebration helps integrate grief and remembrance with joy and faith.
The Roman Catholic Church and other Christian denominations established November 1st as a time to honor saints. All Saints Day incorporates some traditions of Samhain (pronounced sow-in), a Celtic feast at the end of the harvest, marking the midpoint between fall equinox and winter solstice. The evening before All Saints was known as All Hallows Eve, which was shortened to Halloween. Christian religions have tried to overwrite certain rituals deemed pagan (from Latin paganus, country or rustic) with limited success. Customs that have carried forward include disguises, tricks, treats, and bonfires. Today, many clergy continue the practices of costume-wearing and candle-lighting during liturgies.
Halloween is a day for make-believe, where we pretend to be somebody or something we are not. For many, we live a perpetual fantasy that mortal life will continue without end and without illness. Tomorrow will be just like today, except better, a simplistic and unrealistic expectation. As mortal creatures, we share the same fate as other living beings, although each person’s life trajectory will vary. This fact of life is so disconcerting that we have marginalized death as something abnormal and denigrate its mention as ghoulish or morbid. [“Can’t we talk about something more pleasant? “Wow, did you see that World Series game!”]
November 1st celebrates fully-human saints living lives of purpose and meaning, with an action-oriented focus on good works. The next day, All Souls, gets to the essence of who we are: spiritual beings having a human experience. Those who have faith are reminded that the story doesn’t end with death. After crucifixion, comes resurrection. November 2nd is also “National Write Your Own Epitaph Day.” Don’t leave your legacy to chance. PFC Gallo used his tombstone in Arlington National Cemetery to document his eternity message: With Malice toward None.
Facing mortality frees us to live more fully. Día de los Muertos reminds us of the cycle of life, death, and rebirth. Having a passion for life requires acknowledging that it ends. We just don’t know: will it be trick or treat?
© Joan S Grey, 1 NOV 19
IndexCardCure™: trick or treat?