A crash course on the Mexican holiday, Dia de los Muertos
Ah, yes. Mexicans and their death. Death is a bit of a long process in our culture but it is also the culmination of human capabilities for emotion. We as a people are known to be the most extra, but even in Death we have to do the most. Like life itself, death is humbling and should be respected.
Mexicans die three times. Or at least twice. If you are iconic enough, you can outlive the third death.
Death #1: Physical
The first death comes when your heart stops beating and your body ceases to function. It is when you die in the most basic of terms.
Death #2: Symbolic
Even Mexican viewings and funeral ceremonies are lit. The deceased is usually presented in an open casket funeral for at least a week after their death so that family members from all over the world may have a chance to pray and otherwise pay tribute to the fallen. Flowers decorate the viewings and often serve as reunions for long lost cousins and aunts and uncles you forgot you had. Food is bountiful and for the first few days of the ceremony, it is somber and respectful. For the last two days, people are expected to fight through sorrow and remember the deceased lovingly and cheerfully, playing their favorite kind of music and serving their favorite meals.
After your final performance for the living, you die a second time. This happens when your casket is closed for the final time and you are lowered into your resting place forever.
Death #3: Being Forgotten
Many Chicano artists, films and literature alike depict the afterlife as a giant fiesta where generations of families can gather and be together. Food and water is plentiful here. No pain exists and all you are concerned with is spending time with the ancestors you never got to meet during life. It is essentially, one big love fest.
And it is that way because the spirits there know they will not be there forever. A third death is coming. This death comes from no longer being remembered by the living. After generations pass and you are no longer remembered, your spirit finally passes on. For real, this time.
This is why Dia de los Muertos is a huge deal for us. We want to do what we can to respect our lady Death and to avoid our family’s third death so that they may always be able to join us here on Earth during the festivities.
On November 1st we honor the innocent, the children who passed too early. Offerings age appropriate for this group are presented at altars, toys and candy. On November 2nd comes the adult half of the party. Cigarettes, alcohol and other luxuries are offered on the altars instead. These offerings are meant to persuade the spirits back to Earth for one night to receive their family’s prayers and hear their stories told.
If you’re Mexican though, you know your spirit is coming back just to hear yourself be roasted in front of your great-grandkids. They’re going to bring up the ONE TIME you got too drunk at the Quinceañera and passed out under a table. But hey, we’re Mexican. It’s what we do. And it’s all in good fun. No spirit wants to come back to tears and sorrow. They’re here for one night and our duty as the living is to make it count!