Trick or Treat: Día de los Muertos

On the occasion of this Tuesday’s Día de los Muertos or All Souls’ Day, I was momentarily disappointed to not be celebrating in Mexico with bright yellow marigolds and drinking fruit ponche with a sugar cane straw.  Instead, it was a rather bland Tuesday, devoid of celebration or commemoration. But what did cross my mind was that creepy title…Day of the Dead.  I got to thinking about how the English equivalent, All Souls’ Day, sounds so much more uplifting, positive and spiritual, soulful- if you will.  The translation isn’t very exact-if it were-it’d be Dia del Alma, which still sounds quite different than Día de los Muertos.  What’s in a name?  Does each translation conjure up different images, a different meaning?

I grew up Catholic and attended mass numerous times on All Souls’ Day.  I admit, I don’t remember really celebrating any dead souls.   It was more of a lofty idea, kind of a loose metaphor and I don’t recall getting any tangible reference to the fact that it was a time to think about my deceased ancestors or to ponder that subject…yeah that one… death.  We hate talking about it.  It’s almost a taboo word, so heavy it pounds down on the page like a dead weight.  But really it’s just here in this Western world, no, maybe just even in this country, that it carries such an ominously grim connotation.

Years ago in Mexico, I pilgrimmed out to the sacred island of Janitzio in the state of Pátzcuraro, one of the best regions to experience Día de los Muertos.  In typical Latin fashion, the party started days before and lasted long into the night.  Bright golden marigolds hung from the ceilings of restaurants and homes, hot and steamy sweet punch boiled in big cauldrons on street-side corners, and masses of people voyaged into the dark cemetery for a midnight picnic.  They drank, they ate, they made merry, all seated atop the very place somebody’s loved ones had been put to rest.

Can you imagine a midnight picnic at your grandma’s gravestone?  Little altars with offerings of food and treats for your ancestors?

I just love how Mexicans embrace something that is so natural, something that we are all unconsciously waiting for.  Our clock is ticking, ready or not.    Trick or treat.  Maybe we are the ones being tricked.  The others are already preparing for the treat.


Pages from my photo book:

The marigolds, the treats…

A fabulously pink altar, the island of Janitzio, and some ceramic skeletons.





~ by maureenmoore on November 4, 2009.

One Response to “Trick or Treat: Día de los Muertos”

  1. Nice reflection. Thanks Mo.

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