Sunday, November 1, 2015

Dia de Muertos

In the late 80's and early 90's, I lived in a lovely little one bedroom flat in San Francisco's Mission District. This is where I first experienced Dia de Muertos (aka Dia de los Muertos).

I instantly embraced the idea is honoring and connecting with our loved ones who've gone ahead—keeping their memory alive by sprucing up their grave (if they have one), cheering them on in their spiritual journey, and inviting them to visit us on the night of November 1st by enticing them with their favorite earthly delights.

More than anything, I love the idea of reaching across the great divide between living and dead, and doing so with joy and whimsey over the deep sorrow that our loved ones are no longer here with us. It's also the main reason I was drawn to and still make Cartoneria (Mexican paper mache).

In Mexico, November 1st is the day to tidy up loved one's graves, bring bright flowers (real and paper) and spend time in the graveyard. People bring food, meaningful objects, and music that will perhaps draw their loved ones back to be among them throughout the night. Many spend the entire night in the graveyard, playing music, eating, and drinking. Dia de Muetos is a national holiday in Mexico so there's also plenty of public celebrations, parades, and festivals.

Dia de Muertos was once limited to Central and Southern Mexico and was celebrated in summer. It dates back many hundreds of years. The date of this celebration was eventually moved to coincide with All Saint's Day and All Soul's Day (an effort by the Roman Catholic Church to dilute traditional  Dia de Muertos rituals and celebrations). The Church deemed it too primitive, too pagan, and it certainly didn't generate any money for the church.

Ofrendes (altars) are a beautiful and healing part of the Dia de Muertos celebration. For years I've built small altars in my home. Here is this year's ofrenda.

I won't try to explain everything that's going on here—just know that Day of the Dead altars are very personal and healing. My dad crossed over on June 4th of this year, so of course, he is the primary focus of this ofrenda. Kettle corn, a cigar, a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, and one of his fishing lures have been placed here for him. And of course, lots of pics that capture his spirit.

There are many other people and pets represented and "invited" with this ofrenda. A small glass of Pinot for my sister-in-law, Sandy. White roses for our friend Debbie who left us just a couple months ago. A Tarot card for my dear friend, Miriam. At the bottom, the traditional bright marigolds (flores para los muertos). You know this celebration has spread far when Trader Joe's has "Flores para los Muertos" and they're marked as such.

I decided a more condensed altar was the way to go this year and came up with this two-story Ofrenda. The candles will burn all night tonight but I have to work in the morning, so won't be staying up all night to party with the spirits who no longer have to punch the clock. But I will have a beer with my dad tonight.

Mom and I visited his grave on Friday and brought some beautiful fall flowers. It's a military cemetery so you can't go too crazy with extras, though I did see someone had left their loved one a little pumpkin and wish I'd thought to bring one.

Blessings on you and all your loved ones who have crossed over. Their spirits have left their mark on this side. May their memory bring you comfort today and every day.  

My dad was an amazing free spirit, who is even free-er now. We miss him terribly, but have no doubt he is rockin' the great beyond and still making everyone laugh.