[I’ve broken with my promise to blog every day this month. In my defense, I did start this entry last night, but I collapsed into sleepiness before I finished writing it. There will be two blog posts today.]
Here in Los Angeles, people are starting to build alters for Día de Los Muertos — literally translated as “day of the dead”. Day of the Dead is on All Souls Day, November 2nd. It’s a national holiday in Mexico where the dead are remembered and celebrated. Traditions connected with the holiday include building private altars honoring the deceased using sugar skulls, pictures and including their favorite foods, drinks and hobbies. In Los Angeles it’s become something of an arts festival with artists making alters both to deceased friends and family and also to famous people who’ve died over the past few years.
My family didn’t really celebrate Día de Los Muertos in a traditional fashion, but my grandmothers always kept alters to the dead in their homes. Photos of their dead parents and siblings were always surrounded by flowers and watched over by candles and statues of Our Lady. It was something I didn’t think about much — one of those things I saw without really registering an opinion. Looking back, I think I didn’t appreciate the value of Día de Los Muertos because I hadn’t lost anyone close enough to me to understand the importance of celebrating memories. You might say I was very fortunate in that respect, not losing anyone very close to me until quite recently.
As I’m getting older, that’s changing. My grandparents’ generation is gone on my mother’s side and disappearing fast on my father’s. These are people who’ve embodied family for me, who always made me feel valued and loved. Even more importantly, they clearly knew who they were and what they stood for. Through them, I knew myself.
I don’t think I’m going to make an alter this year — as I said, it’s not really a tradition my family held with — but I am going to buy some pan de muertos (yes, that’s bread of the dead), eat it with a cup of good coffee and remember some very wonderful people.