I want you to imagine the best birthday party you’ve ever celebrated or attended. Think about the joy that flooded the room, the bright colors, and the laughter to celebrate someone’s life. Now, think about if that was the last birthday for that someone. How often would you replay that memory in fond recollection of them? How much would you wish you could relive it over and over again? Well, that’s kind of what Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is all about.
Because it’s just after October and vividly features macabre decor, this holiday is mistakenly referred to as Mexican Halloween and misconstrued as a morbid, somber affair with ghouls and other spooky elements. In fact, Dia de los Muertos (DDLM) is a celebration of life, which is why I asked you to consider a birthday. Like a baby shower or sweet 16 or other milestone birthday, DDLM is another celebration of a person’s life. The difference of course is the knowledge that it is the life’s entirety and has no more chapters to add to it, so it is fully appreciated in its completion and impact on the world. If the day you are born is a day of potential and joy in all the things you could be, DDLM is a day of recognition and joy in all the things you were (and are in the memories of loved ones).
This holiday spans two days and is grounded in the concept that death is but the final celebration and it never has to end so long as the living remember to keep the party going. For Latino culture, a culture that does not shy away from death, it would be disrespectful to memorialize someone’s life with dreary, depressing events. Instead, on November 1st we begin an elaborate party and start by celebrating the children and young adults we’ve lost. The celebration continues throughout the night well into November 2nd when we finish by remembering the adults we’ve lost. Remember birthday toasts, music, and food? All of that, but in a cemetery.
So long as our dead are not forgotten, the essence of who they are never really dies. It is a sentiment of legacy and generations of the best attributes being passed into the minds of those who still live. Very folksy, really. Or think, Memorial Day, but simply for everyone you’ve ever known who impacted the world.
If this heartbreaking, but beautiful notion of death is your vibe, then it’s time for you to build yourself an altar. I’ve compiled a 2-step system to get you started on construction. First, you begin by finding a space and getting real with the symbolism of the four elements. Check out the infographic below to get started today!
Done with your initial set-up? Now, it’s time to personalize it. Check out The Altar Guide, Part 2 to fully prep for Dia de Los Muertos!