Day of the Dead...

Everyone knows I love holidays.  Christmas.  Thanksgiving.  Halloween.  Easter.  The list goes on and on.  So it might come as a shock to learn that there is one holiday that I haven't fully embraced...Day of the Dead.

It's one of the few holidays that my Mexican grandparents didn't celebrate.  November 2nd was just another day.  There were no colorful altars built for deceased friends or relatives.  No offerings with their favorite foods and beverages.  No sugar skulls.  Not even Pan de Muerto.  I knew nothing of the existence of Dia de Muertos

It's not that my grandparents didn't care about the deceased, because they did.  There were countless visits to the cemetery, to tidy up the graves of my brother and Gramm's third husband, when I was a kid.   Weeds were pulled.  Tombstones were washed.  And fresh flowers were placed at each grave.  While we worked, Gramm would tell us stories about the deceased.  I loved hearing the stories about my brother.  They always made me feel so close to him, even though I never met him.  Same with Gramm's third husband, my mom's stepdad.  Although, I do remember freaking out everytime I washed his tombstone, because Gramm's name was on it.  (Sidenote: Gramm is to be buried with her third husband when her time comes.  The tombstone already has both of their names on it.  All that is missing is the date of Gramm's passing.) 

I've gotten off topic a little, but the point is that I was taught to remember, respect and care for the deceased.  But I never learned about Dia de Muertos.

During the six years that Hubby and I lived in the States, no mention was ever made of Dia de Muertos.  Not by Hubby, his relatives, our Latino friends and neighbors nor by the people at our Spanish language church.

We arrived in Mexico just days before November 2nd, and the holiday passed, practically unnoticed.  It wasn't until the following year that I learned that Day of the Dead was such a large celebration.  It was the only thing the news programs talked about.  I searched all over El Mercado that year for sugar skulls, with no luck at all.  No one I knew had built an altar, but I noticed a steady flow of people taking flowers to El Panteon (the cemetery).  And I got to taste my first Pan de Muerto.

I got to build my first miniature Altar de Muertos the year Pappy passed away.  But like the other two that I've made since, it was for one of the kiddies'  homework assignments.

Like my grandparents, Hubby's family doesn't celebrate Day of the Dead.  Not because they don't care for the deceased, but because they believe we should shower our loved ones with flowers and gifts while they are still alive to enjoy them.  And I couldn't agree more.

So, while I may never get to take part in a big Dia de Muertos celebration, my thoughts are filled with memories of those that are no longer with me.

Godspeed to all of you! 



  1. I love Day of the Dead. Here in Veracruz it passes as just another day, but in Zempoala it's celebrated in full force. Sugar skulls and other treats, families have a big meal in their homes, build altars, then take food to the graveside where they honor the deceased and decorate the graves. It is truly a beautiful sight to see all tombstones adorned with flowers, and hundreds of people honor them at once. In the evening most families enjoy tamales, hot chocolate and pan de muerto. I love this holiday far more than Halloween, and hope that Zempoala and other villages around here never stop celebrating it. :-)

  2. I'm not a huge Halloween for me trying to celebrate Day of the Dead didn't seem right. I know they are different, but it's the same time of year, and my clock is not telling me it's celebrating time! Does that make sense? Hubby's family doesn't celebrate it, so maybe that's also why I haven't learned to embrace this holiday :)

  3. Are you protestant? I think it is more a Catholic holiday, well Catholic and the indigenous religions that preceded it. It does seem to me that Catholicism is more embracing and inclusive of previous religions and traditions. I think of it as being like Microsoft, 'embrace and expand'. Protestant churches tend to have a one way or the highway kind of thinking. I'm not either religion, not religious at all in fact, but I do enjoy the ceremonies.

  4. We like the Harvest festival type things, there are not any around here so we create them in our houses. Jonna is right that Dia de Muertos is a Catholic thing. My dad is from the states obviously but was raised Catholic and went to seminary and he knew all about it. The shrines came from the los indeginos de Mexico more than from the church but like a lot of things in our American holidays has been widely accepted. We don not build alters because like you said Leslie we feel this time should be spent with those who are still alive, but I do teach Alana about them. I want her to understand them because she will grow up seeing them everywhere.

  5. They combine Day of the Dead and Halloween here in Cancun. I know quite a few people who put up altars.

    I love all the colors and traditions, but I'm not sure I could ever put up an altar myself.

  6. You never know, Leslie, you might really enjoy the whole Panteon thing. I did, and that was even without music, food and booze-fueled socializing, which was prohibited here thanks to some rowdies. I just enjoyed watching the care people took with their family members' graves, and felt sad for the tombs that obviously hadn't had any care for years. It certainly beats Memorial Day, which seems to me to be more about barbecue than remembering the departed.

  7. nice Leslie - I did write about dia de muertos as well - from my own perspective of course. This is a huge tradition in Mexico that I don't embrace at all. Did you like pan de muerto? is kind of dry to my taste (I like rosca de reyes more).

  8. LEAH: Sounds like my kind of a celebration. If only this holiday were celebrated the same here, I know I would be singing a very different tune. :) I too hope that Zempoala never stops celebrating!

    OMT: It makes perfect sense!

    JONNA: Hubby's family is Catholic, as is most of the town, that is why I am so surprised that the Day of the Dead celebrations here in town aren't as big as they are in other places throughout Mexico.

    1st Mate: I do enjoy visiting El Panteon with the kiddies, even when it's not Dia de Muertos. They love listening to Hubby's stories about their great-grandfathers.

    And yes, it does beat Memorial Day! I think it's so sad when the true meaning of a holiday is lost, like Memorial Day and Christmas!

    OJ: I love Pan de Muerto! My favorite (my own recipe) tastes a little like Rosca de Reyes! :)

  9. We are Catholic but have never celebrated this particular holiday. Though one year it could be fun to try. Though we do not live near any grave sites of our loved ones, so that part would be hard to do. :(

    I also hate it when the true meaning of a holiday is lost!

    Thanks for stopping by my blog :)

  10. It seems almost like it is the equivalent of our Memorial Day. At least, because, I remember that was the day we would always visit grave sites and remember those who had passed in church...