Many of us come from different religious, cultural and social backgrounds and have an abundance to share with each other when we are not inhibited to do so. It, sometimes, seems to be socially unacceptable to talk about death or to demonstrate your own personal feelings concerning loss or pain. This can lead to unhealthy consequences as people may keep their feelings pent up and their actions misunderstood. Some cultures have adopted ways of dealing with death and loss through rituals and ceremonies that celebrate life and honor the dead. In Hispanic cultures, they celebrate what is called The Day of the Dead or Dias de Muertos. The Aztecs originated this ritual hundreds of years ago, which is now celebrated for several days in late fall. Although it has some similar aspects to that of Native American and Christian religious or cultural expressions, the ceremonies are typically much more vibrant, colorful and energetic. Each day and activity has specific meaning as the ceremony progresses with preparation to welcome the spirits; specific days set aside to greet spirits of different types, a congregation at the graveyard and a final day that the spirits are escorted back to their dormant state. Many people do not realize similar practices can be traced back to the Pagans and often do not understand the meaning behind them. It is human nature to seek understanding and to meet emotional needs concerning the loss of a loved one, as well as one’s own mortality. This is a very healthy thing to do. Through the events of The Day of the Dead, the family and community come together to first honor the dead by making sure they are not forgotten; to celebrate the lives of those who have passed on and to celebrate life to come. Beautiful ofrendas or homemade altars are constructed to welcome their deceased ancestors. The family members are able to find comfort in celebrating the lives of their lost loved ones and in knowing that they will not be forgotten when they die, as well. Community members support each other by visiting the homes of others to help them in their celebrations, too. It is intended for the generations to share rituals and story-telling that helps to maintain the culture; to keep the deceased alive in memory and ancestry relevant for the younger and future generations. It also helps the surviving individuals to deal with their loss and provides everyone a sense of belonging to their own ancestry and community. A bond between the individuals and their community is strengthened by their sharing; participation, support and common beliefs.
It is easy to see how people can confuse the Day of the Dead and Halloween as being the same thing, when actually they are quite different. The common day practice of Halloween has become something primarily for children with emphasis on who has the best costume and how much candy can be collected. It does not have the spiritual foundation and communal intent that the Day of the Dead does. Other than the fact that each tends to have some degree of festivities attached to them and that decorating and costumes are traditional, there really isn’t much more that they have in common. Halloween is thought to have originated with the ancient pagan practices where people would wear costumes and gather together to scare off ghosts or evil spirits and to receive blessings from their Gods. There are some convincing correlation between the Day of the Dead festivities and such pagan practices, although the Day of the Dead is not based on fear of the spirits. Similarly, All Saints Day and All Hallow’s Eve were created to honor saints and holy men with festivities. Find ways to honor those we have lost and to provide ourselves some comfort are investments to our well-being. I marvel in such celebrations as the Day of the Dead as the depth and meaning behind them are so powerful, beautiful and can be quite healing.
DIas de Muertos provides the living with a sense of well-being as their loved ones are honored and they have a method of which to express their emotions.