|The original artist and creator of La Catrina|
If you had asked me - before I knew my husband or anything, really, about Mexican culture - what I thought of Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), my answer would have been something like this:
- I don't know... Mexico's version of Halloween?
- Skeletons and skulls are not my thing.
- It seems morbid. What's their fixation with death anyhow?
- Something I don't want any part in.
All I saw was death. And it was bizarre, colorful, primal, an odd blend of Catholicism and indigenous traditions. Without saying it straight out, I guess I assumed it was evil. I mean, just the name of it, right? Day of the Dead? Sounded like a holiday for zombies.
But then, I had an experience one day when I stumbled upon a celebration of El Dia. And my world peeled back, my eyes came into focus, and I saw something else.
I saw life. Vibrancy. Reverence. Permission to remember loved ones lost.
|Our own Dia de los Muerto fiesta|
That's what I've been learning from Mexicans. They often take subject matter that is heavy and find ways of holding it lightly. With Mexicans, grieving and partying really are woven together, and this ability to laugh until you cry real tears presents what feels like a paradox to those of us who aren't Mexican. There are many sides of the same coin - reverence and irreverence, Catholic and Spanish colonial and indigenous Mexican, and you couldn't separate them no matter how diligently you tried.
Sometimes, I mourn a little, the things and people I have passed by without being willing to really see them, because I wonder how much I've missed. It took me years to read the Harry Potter books because all I saw was they were about witches and wizards. And I wasn't into witches and wizards. So when I finally picked the books up, I couldn't put them down, because I soon discovered they were really about so much more. Friendship. Courage. Purpose. Sacrifice. Imagination. Character. I'm not exaggerating when I say these are some of the best books I've dared to read, and maybe they're not for everyone, but for me, they opened me up to not always dismissing things based on appearance.
I think those of us who come from the Christian tradition can so easily forget how bizarre our faith is in appearance. We dismiss skeletons, forgetting our main symbol is a Roman cross - a symbol of death, torture, suffering. We write things off as morbid, like sugar skulls (symbolically, "eating" your own death) and regularly participate in the Eucharist during our worship gatherings - symbolically "eating" the body of Christ and "drinking" his blood.
|Calaveras de azucar|
So when I look at drawings, paintings or any matter of Mexican art featuring skeletons (calaveras), faces painted in death's mask with colorful embellishments, I no longer see death. I see a culture remembering their dead, celebrating the lives they lived and passing stories onto their children. A culture comfortable with a much thinner veil between life and death than the culture I come from. A culture that lives with the awareness that we all will meet the same end one day, and in this we are all equals. Rich and poor, weak and strong, educated and uneducated, male and female, elderly and babies, sinner and saint, we all will know death's mask. I see a culture willing to face hard things with a sense of community, tradition, boldness, unflagging remembrance, even festivity.
And let me tell you, this means so much more when you've lost someone dear. Unless you've lost someone in the military in the U.S., there aren't holidays for remembering loved ones who have died. There aren't built in traditions for passing on their legacies around our tables, on altars of remembrance or throwing parties in cemetaries. We may be too afraid of death, too uncomfortable with the subject matter or emotion of it all, too private, too reserved. Who knows.
But me, I'm becoming more Mexican each year. And I'm learning to celebrate like one.
|My altar one year for Papa|
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Linking up with Kate and the Five-minute Friday community, to the prompt of "Care." And as per usual, I rarely stick to the five minute limit - this post was no exception.