https://ajax.googleapis.com/ajax/libs/jquery

Click on the image for more information.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Day Of The Dead

While half the world celebrates Halloween, MesoAmerica celebrates Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead).

It's a day when friends and relatives gather to remember those who have departed. Technically, I think it's celebrated on November 2nd, but most people I know celebrate from October 31st through November 2nd.

Since we lived so far from relatives, I remember celebrating this holiday only once with my family while we were on holiday in Mexico. I was very young, and we went to visit my grandmother's grave on my father's side.

My father, knowing we were rapscallions (descended from the same) warned us that if we strayed off the path in the cemetery, snakes and ghouls would carry us off. --There was no end to my father's stellar parenting skills. LOL.

Obviously, we were terrified, me constantly glancing up at the trees, knowing a giant snake could easily drop down and whisk me away. We were the quietest, most well behaved children you could imagine. 

Even when we reached my grandmother's grave, we remained somber. On the other hand, my parents, aunts and uncles, and assorted cousins were laughing and telling stories.

Día de los Muertos is a day of thoughtful remembrance and celebration. It's not a sad time at all, though if the death was recent it could be. For the most part everyone gathers to pay their respects to the dead and to celebrate the life they lived. We drink a toast to them, share our food and our stories about the deceased.

I like this holiday a lot. I miss my friends and relatives who have already gone, but I'd like to believe that on this one day, maybe they come back to reassure us they are well and happy--especially when we remember them.

We all die. What matters most is how we live.

***
Despite my father's simple solution for keeping us in line, fright night didn't have a lasting effect. To this day I love visiting cemeteries, reading the inscriptions on the stones and wondering what that person was like in life.

Surely, I can't be the only one who thinks like this. How about you? 

Are cemeteries scary or comforting? Has anything weird ever happened to you at a cemetery (barring, of course, you didn't have a father like mine)? :-)

Happy Día de los Muertos

***

The blog tour continues on November 5th, but I'll be posting before then here on this blog. Stay tuned. More good stuff on the way.

36 comments:

Marianne Arkins said...

We never celebrated that... nor did anyone try to frighten me at cemeteries. I love them -- one of the only things I enjoy about New Hampshire are all the little cemeteries that dot the landscape. Way back when, folks used to bury the dead in their own private family plots and there are thousands of them here -- run down and absolutely fascinating. The history there is incredible (but also sad -- so many babies died then).

I'm rambling ... sorry. I'm in a NaNoWriMo haze.

Linda Leszczuk said...

Our church did the rememberance of the dead yesterday - reading the names of all who died in the past year with a single ringing of a low bell after each name. It's sad but beautiful.

I enjoy old cemeteries, wandering around reading headstones. Never had a spooky happening.

Mike Keyton said...

The Incas used to bring their embalmed dead out from their sepulchers so they could join their celebratory feasts. I've been to the occasional dinner with guests enjoying much the same social skills.

My only scary moment at a graveyard was when I was a boy. A railway embankment ran alongside, halfway up of which was a very large tree. A previous generation had attached a thick piece of rope to one of its branches and knotted the end. It made a brilliant swing. You sat on it from top of the embankment and swang off into infinity and beyond, only this time the rope snapped and I nearly did swing into infinity as a grave stone zoomed towards me. I missed it by inches and landed in some very long grass.

Jennifer Shirk said...

I do think it's interesting to visit cemeteries--especially very old ones and read what tey used to write on them.
But yeah, I also love to talk about loved ones who have died. It helps me remember them.

Maria Zannini said...

Marianne: The babies' headstones were always the saddest.

I think you can feel the sadness lingering at their graves, it's so palpable.

NH being such an old place, I'll bet you have a lot of great old cemeteries.

Maria Zannini said...

Linda: Oh, that's nice. I like it when a community is so tight knit that they remember everyone in their congregation.

Joanne said...

In a cemetery a few towns over, there are 10,000 graves. Every year on the weekend of All Souls Day, families set out flowers and candles at the graves. At night when those thousands of candles are illuminated, it is such a sight to see. There's a certain peace to it, thinking of the family members so fondly remembering those have gone.

Maria Zannini said...

Mike: My father would have had a field day with you. LOL!

You're the reason he used to scare us so much. :)

Glad you didn't smash your pumpkinhead on the headstone.

Maria Zannini said...

Jennifer: The very old cemeteries tell a lot of tales.

When we were house hunting. one piece of land we liked was adjoined to a small country cemetery.

I like visiting them, but I don't think I'd want to live next to one.

Maria Zannini said...

Joanne:

ref: 10,000 graves

Wow! Have you ever taken a picture of that? That would be awesome to see.

Lia Bal said...

My parents always visit the cemetery on Halloween. I stopped doing that since I got married because I just don’t have the time between work and family. Someday, though, I would like to follow the tradition. I’ve never experienced anything strange happening at a cemetery, although the cemetery where many of my in-laws are buried is supposedly haunted. I’ve never seen the ghost who haunts it (it’s a woman who was hit and killed many years ago when leaving the cemetery) and nobody I know of has seen her, but there are always reports of eye witnesses every year.

Bookewyrme said...

I like old cemeteries. They have character and interesting people and are usually very pretty. New cemeteries always seem very stark and uninviting though.

~Lia

Dru said...

I've grown up watching horror movies so to this day I don't like walking on the grounds of cemeteries due to my fear that a hand will rise up and grab my legs.

However, I would love to attend an old-fashion New Orleans funeral procession.

Maria Zannini said...

Lia: That's a nice tradition for the family. It keeps you connected to the past.

That's a shame about that poor woman who was killed leaving the cemetery. Guess she wasn't meant to leave.

Maria Zannini said...

Lia (Bookwyrme): You know I didn't realize until you mentioned it how true that is.

Churches are the same way. The new ones have no character. I know it shouldn't make a difference as long as you meet, but I miss the personality of an old church and old cemeteries.

Good point!

Maria Zannini said...

Dru: LOL! Well, I would be lying if I said I never took a few precautionary glances as I wandered the cemetery.

The New Orleans funeral processions are similar to Dia de los Muertos in that it celebrates life rather than mourns death.

Falen (Sarah Ahiers) said...

This post was full of win

Joanna St. James said...

cemetaries scare me really bad

Maria Zannini said...

Sarah: :) I'm sure the dead would approve.

Joanna: Did you have a father like mine? :grin: That man gave me more phobias than I can count. Somehow I got over the cemetery one.

Barbara Ann Wright said...

I always thought Day of the Dead was interesting. But since I never spent much time in graveyards, they're still spooky places to me.

Maria Zannini said...

Barbara: I have to admit, I'll never visit a cemetery at night. I'm not looking to court trouble. LOL. I want to see what's chasing me.

Cathy in AK said...

Old churches and old cemeteries are great places to visit. We have a couple of small cemeteries here in our little town, but I've only visited the one that hasn't been used in recent years. I recognize some of the family names of those who established the town a century ago and still have relatives living here. Fun (and a little spooky :) history lesson.

Maria Zannini said...

Cathy: I think the history is what lures me in. Every one of those people buried there made some contribution in life. And they made an impression on someone else along the way.

Wendy Ramer said...

I love the concept of this holiday, but being Jewish, the dead are always discussed with a hushed voice. I hate this and prefer to talk at full volume, with all the life I can to remember those I loved. I wish I could celebrate at the cemetary like the Mexicans do, but Lordy, could you just imagine the look on the Jewish caretaker's face if I showed up with music, food, wine, and laughing cousins? I don't think so.

Kay Theodoratus said...

I like to read old epitaphs, but I've never been comfortable in cemeteries and only make short visits.

Incidently, Dia de los Muertos was the last chapter in the last draft I wrote.

Sherri said...

I'd much rather celebrate The Day of the Dead than Halloween. I like the idea celebrating those who've passed. The church we went to in Oregon did that on whatever Sunday was closest to Nov. 1 and we loved it.

Maria Zannini said...

Wendy: LOL! He'll probably point you to the Hispanic neighborhood down the road. "Lady, ya got the wrong cemetery."

The older I get the more I want to celebrate that person's life and not mourn his death.

Thanks for sharing your cultural customs!

Maria Zannini said...

Kay: Now that sounds kind of ominous. I hope you'll talk about your story a little more on your blog. You've piqued my interest. :)

Maria Zannini said...

Sherri: I love Halloween, but more for its goofy party atmosphere, but Dia de los Muertos is for the serious side of me. I want my loved ones to know how much they mean to me.

Charlie said...

I'm always curious about graveyards. They new ones can be so orderly and uniform that they feel 'factory' like. Older ones seem much more interesting - by day - I wouldn't want to be in one at night. LOL. When I was a kid, I used to get a chill everytime I rode my bike past the cemetary in my grandmother's neighborhood. Luckily, that scare didn't stick with me.

Maria Zannini said...

Hi Charlie! I agree about the new ones. They're almost sterile. I guess maybe it's time that gives us our character.

Kim said...

We have so many old (dating back to the 18th century) cemeteries around here it isn't funny. I love going and looking at the dates, and the inscriptions as well. They said a lot more back in those days than we do now. Totally cool to wander around in, but not after dark - mwahahaha! :D

Meghan Schuessler said...

Thankfully I've visited very few graveyards over the years. They freak me out. I also get buggy at wakes - I have this irrational fear that the person in the casket is going to pop up & suddenly be alive again even though I *KNOW* it's impossible.

Maria Zannini said...

Kim: The 18th century? Wow!

I would love to read some of those headstones.

I'm with you though. Not after dark.:)

Maria Zannini said...

Meghan: The same thing happens to me at wakes. It's partly due to imagination, partly due to boredom --depending on who's speaking.

Stacy said...

I love Dia de los Muertes and have adopted it as my own custom over the last few years. My ofrenda is still up and I have marigolds on it too. It's a wonderful tradition. I never used to like being in cemeteries but the one near our house has a Cemetery Walk every year and local historians get dressed up and do little vignettes on the graves of people who have lived and died here and it is so interesting! It's given me a whole new way to see the cemeteries. I'm still a bit skiddish about walking through it by myself though.