A few years ago, I happened to be visiting Mexico over October 31 – November 2.
As luck would have it, it was the annual event of el Día de los Muertos. I didn’t know much about it but it turned out to be one of the most interesting and amazing cultural, community events I have ever witnessed.
I was in the small beach town of Sayulita, on the Pacific coast. On the first day of the celebration, as dusk approached, everyone in the village came out to decorate their yards. Candles were lit, and altars set up with photographs, drawings, and piles of food or bottles of tequila to reflect remembrance and recognition of family members who had died. We walked over to the community graveyard and it was beautiful with hundreds of candles everywhere and people dressed in colorful costumes and masks. There was no mourning, only joy and laughter and deep cultural connection.
I think what I found so personally moving while observing this thousand-years-old tradition was how death (and therefore life) were being celebrated with such joy in honoring and remembering loved ones. Everyone was smiling and laughing and playing fun music and inviting us to celebrate with them.
The Day of the Dead originated several thousand years ago with the Aztec, Toltec, and other Nahua people, who considered mourning the dead disrespectful.
I have never forgotten this experience and since then, every year on that day, I too participate. I assemble in one place pictures of my loved ones who have died, including beloved pets, light a candle and remember them with love and gratitude. I invite you to do the same if it so moves you.
In our work at EOLCCA, the Day of the Dead resonates so clearly with the dignity, family presence, and peace we wish for our own loved ones, as well as those reaching out to us here in California who are facing terminal illness. We continue to help our clients and their families navigate the health system in their final months and obtain the end of life care they desire. We gladly accept donations to help us continue this much needed service.
If (after some normalcy returns to our everyday lives) you ever have the chance to visit Mexico for this one-of-a-kind holiday, I strongly encourage you to go for it! Here is a link to a National Geographic article that will tell you all about it.