Celebrating the dead

The end of October and beginning of November is a time of reflection about the dead – and ultimately the meaning of life.

In many European countries, people visit the graves of their loved ones and light candles in remembrance of them.

Other parts of the world celebrate more exuberantly. Take my birthplace, Mexico, for example.

Last week, we visited the Museum of Ethnography – a museum whose mission is to help us broaden our perspective of the world.

There was an exhibition celebrating Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead).

This celebration is thousands of years old: originating from the Aztec times, it has adapted and mixed with Catholic traditions so that you can find altars in people’s homes, laden down with offerings, skeletons, photos of the dead and crosses.

One popular figure is La Calavera Catrina (the elegant skull), which depicts an upper class lady, and serves as a reminder that even though we might have pretensions of importance due to riches or class, death is the great equalizer.

The living make exotic skulls out of sugar and in some places in Mexico, they have joyous picnics at the gravesides of the departed.

I like the idea of remembering people who gave meaning to your life while feasting and laughing and remembering the good times with them. After all, this is probably the best way of helping their memory live on.

“Try as much as possible to be wholly alive, with all your might, and when you laugh, laugh like hell and when you get angry, get good and angry. Try to be alive. You will be dead soon enough.” — Saroyan


For more traditions, please visit: My World.

54 thoughts on “Celebrating the dead

  1. An interesting post, in France all the graves are tidy and spruced up in time for Toussaint, then huge pots of Chrysanthemums, the flowers for the dead are delivered by the whole family. Rather different to the neglected graves in the UK.

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  2. Marvelous, fascinating post for the day and your photos are so colorful! I had no idea you were born in Mexico! I lived in San Miquel de Allende for over a year after I retired and enjoyed not only learning the language, but so much about it’s culture and history. It was the best twelve month vacation ever. Hope you have a wonderful week!

    Sylvia

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    1. Yes, I even studied Spanish at university. It’s now been replaced by learning Swedish.. and is very rusty. But somewhere, there is a huge drawerful of language waiting to be revived!

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  3. Brillant post!

    We have several Mexican bloggers we follow and we love the way they celebrate death at this time of year.

    Here it is all about going to Mass, and praying and remembering but the idea of feasting and celebrating those that have died seems so much better.

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  4. I don’t know if I’d want to adorn my living space with these skulls! However, the flamboyant lady looks something like me… Death is the great equalizer. I’m going to laugh while I can, Fi!

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  5. I like the idea of death picnics..fun erals are not much fun, so why not have a picnic..eat, drink and be merry soon we shall all perish.
    Great quotes in this post..I am sure we don’t have celebrations on November First because it is usually snowy and who wants to have a picnic in the snow? It would be a short and sweet fun time:)

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  6. I just LOVE that first photo! It’s beautiful. It’s a wonderful thing when people are so comfortable with all of the aspects of life and death that they can celebrate both. I really do admire the tradition of the Day of the Dead.

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  7. i love the hand-painted skull! we also have a colorful All Souls’ Day celebration here…lots of food and family reunions. it’s a joyous occasion second to Christmas.:p

    your photos are terrific! skulls made of sugar, now that is interesting!:p

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  8. I didn’t know you were born in Mexico! I lived there several years also and am fond of many Mexican traditions, not to mention the food!

    I went to a Dia de los Muertos procession here in San Francisco on Nov 2, it was really interesting. I wish I understood the celebration better, it was not at all scary or creepy. Lots of families.

    I was not aware they had these celebrations in Europe.

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  9. Very interesting post ! I think it gives a little explanation to me why suddenly skulls are so in fashion. I saw a mineral stone exhibition here in Brussels and lots of semi precious stones were carved as skulls !
    I too would prefer a joyful athmosphere around my grave !

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  10. There’s an old saying that a person’s life is not really over until there is no-one left speaking their name, and none of their works survive.

    So for instance my great-grandfather’s life is not ended, although he died before I was born. We still have the evening dress cape he made for my father, and my husband sometimes wears it when we go out to black tie events!

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  11. Hey Lady Fi, I loved the collection of pictures here. Isn’t it a wonderful thought, to mourn joyfully and exuberantly? Death as a protracted absence that will eventually pass for us all before we’re together again is a really comforting thought, and it makes sense that it is celebrated.

    You sort of speak to the world in pictures, and others choose stories. Part of the reason I’ve always liked TV and film is that the two can be combined — plus people tend to lower their guard with fiction, learn about new things, feel less likely to push away the unknown. I swear there’s a reason I’m going into that.

    I remember a show called Dead Like Me, which only the title was dreadful, it was a comedy/drama on Showtime (not for people uncomfortable with swearing, but there’s no nudity, just a lot of cussing) about a gang of Grim Reapers. Anyway, that was the series that introduced me to Dias de los Muertos and three other shows also featured explanations. They weren’t ghoulish stories, most of them were celebratory.

    Doesn’t that make all kinds of sense? There is something very comforting about Dias de los Muertos, Just the concept of being both peaceful and joyful at the same time is very compelling.

    So when I read your post, and saw the pictures it made me think of the stories I’ve seen, and read about Dias de los Muertos and why it is that it feels so right to sort of spread the word on it.

    I think because we, at least here in the U.S. and in most western cultures, approach death with a lot of fear. It’s somber, sedate, sad …and it is the thing we have in common with everyone else…we all lose someone and we all eventually are lost.

    A day, every year, in which the departed are celebrated with a spirit of, “We meet once a year, until we meet again forever” feels like a gift to be given to all, doesn’t it? Thank you for sharing that with people.

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  12. Beautiful post and solemn images. The celebration of All Saints is the one I grew up with, instead of Halloween. I recall nostalgic visit to the graves of family members, long gone, and the lighting of the candles.
    xo

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  13. A big celebration like this is held every year at the Hollywood Forever in LA, called dia de los Muertos. An elaborate festivities full of myth and colors. I went there the day after.

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  14. An interesting tradition. Here in NZ most Europeans stop grave visits after a couple of years. Now we have cremations the ‘graves’ are just plaques and not very exciting to visit. I do agree though that we should celebrate our loved one’s life, not mourn their death. – Dave

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  15. beautiful post lady fi!!! Thanks so much for stopping by and visiting my site. I’m wondering if you would like to participate in the gratitude quilt. I know Thanksgiving is not a tradition (at least not on a thursday in Nov) in your homeland, but I am trying to create word quilt that includes folks from all around the world…every day is a day to celebrate gratitude!!! If you want to join in…go to the top of my blog for directions and send me your “in this moment I am grateful for…” thoughts to my email address provided there..you can also click on a link “mega mobius gratitude quilt” to view last year’s magnificent quilt!!! I do hope you will join in!

    gentle steps

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