One of the most beautiful traditions from my country and my personal favourite is the day of the dead.
If there is something that I enjoy the most is seeing people enjoying themselves. Although, I am not a very sociable person, just sitting around and watching families sharing together, friends playing football or couples having a picnic, makes me feel incredibly happy. So, what could possibly be more amusing for me than seeing people sharing and working together whilst celebrating a tradition from their countries? Nothing at all.
I love Halloween and, to be honest, I feel that everyone should feel free to celebrate whatever they want, I mean, Christmas and Easter are not exactly a tradition born in Mexico, are they? However, I also believe that we can celebrate Halloween and have this appreciation for our own, beautiful, meaningful traditions.
The day of the dead was a precolonial tradition from our native cultures. They used to believe that there was life after death and they used to celebrate it, offering gifts and traditional food to the souls of the people who die. This was organised in a specific way with certain elements which were a signature of that special day. For example, the table where the altar is going to be set needs to have a white tablecloth, which represents purity and joy. Yellow represents the colour of dead, and yellow flowers are still used in our ‘Altares’. These flowers are called ‘Cempasuchil’ and they are meant to represent the sun shining to the path home. Also, some white flowers called ‘Alheli’ are used, these ones representing the innocence of the dead children. Incense is used to scare bad spirits that are not the souls of our beloved ones, candles to show the way back home to the souls and a path of flowers, personal treasures of the dead people, their favourite food, alcohol, some toys if you lost a child, a glass of water, so they can drink something after they eat, and of course, a photograph of your deceased family members. Every single detail has been carefully considered to give our dead a good welcome from their trip from the afterlife. That day, we are sharing a moment with them. It is thought that during the night of the 1st and the 2nd of November, the gates from the other world are open and that is why they can come to visit us.
Regardless of your beliefs, I find this a meaningful moment for any family that has suffered a loss, as for our Latin culture and our families this means a lot, and not only for the nuclear family but also for all our relatives which are close and spend a lot of time with us . This tradition allows us to feel that we can still do something nice for them, that we can keep celebrating them and, for a moment, we are still together.
I lost my grandmother three years ago, it was painful as hell and there is no day that passes which I do not think about her. Since her death, my family has been building a special altar to honour her. It is very sad to keep going without her, but with her absence in our lives, spending time with the whole family, sharing and remembering anecdotes of her make us feel that she is with us.
The day of the Dead is a beautiful tradition that I hope Mexicans keep celebrating through time, not just because this is one of the most emblematic symbols of our country. But because, at the end, besides honouring and remembering our beloved ones, it is also a commemoration that keeps us together, as a family, as a community, as a society. We spend time together, working together and creating together, the empathy that sometimes is missing from our society that can be felt around the states, participating in competitions to see who built the best altar, who wrote the best ‘calaverita’ (Which is a satiric rhyme taking the mickey of dead) sitting with your family and eating ‘pan de muerto’ (bread of the dead) and drinking it with hot chocolate or coffee, sharing stories; smelling the essence of the flowers, the incense; looking at the people that you love and spending time with them, illuminated only by the light of the candles and knowing that, the person that you are remembering would be very happy seeing that. Even if they are not there, you keep them always in your heart.
I miss my grandmother, but I am happy that we have a special day to remember her and we can also have a beautiful day as a family, as she used to love.
This one is the ‘Altar’ that Mexican Students society of the University of Sussex placed at the entrance of the University last year.
This little one is the Family’s altar that we have made for my grandma.
And this is the last photograph that was taken of me and my beloved grandmother, I miss you ‘Luchita’, I hope you enjoy this day and that you have time to be with me over here in England. I love you.