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Day of the Dead: A Mexican Tradition Embracing Life and Remembering Loved Ones

Growing up in Mexico meant that towards the end of October you will find vibrantly decorated chocolate sugar skulls and a delicious Mexican pastry called ‘pan de muerto’ at the shop, and at school you will paint or dress skulls as recreational activity, it was a motivation to try and make the prettiest one!

At home, if your family was accustomed to the Mexican tradition of ‘Dia de los muertos’ aka ‘Day of the dead’ you may have an ‘altar’ which are known as "ofrendas," adorned with colourful flowers, candles, sugar skulls, and photographs of your deceased loved ones. These altars serve as a way to honour and remember those who have passed away.

My household was not a traditional one. Having a Bolivian mum and a Mexican dad meant that I had a blend of these cultures and not always followed one or the other.

Reflecting on this meaningful tradition and after several conversations with people who appreciate my culture, I came to understand that for the outside world in Mexico we are comfortable with the topic of death.

I would like to believe this is an accurate picture, but it isn’t. It is true that this day is a symbolism of our culture, which aims to remember and celebrate the lives of our ancestors. It brings us closer together as a community and help us foster deeper connections with our loved ones. However it does not make it easier to talk or accept death. Yes, we might be use the word ‘death’ more often than in other countries but there is more we could still do about it.

What I think is beautiful, is the ritual. Having a dedicated period where you can consciously remember someone is cathartic at a personal level. If you really commit to it, you can go through a journey of acceptance, reflection and appreciate for your loved ones life and your own.

I wanted to share a few quotes that resonate with the idea of this tradition and the importance of consciously remembering those who are no longer here.

La verdadera muerte es el olvido

Roughly translates to: ‘True death is oblivion’

or as my dad always used to say…

Recordar es vivir

Roughly translates to: ‘Remembering is living’

This is the second ‘Day of the dead’ since my dad died. Creating an altar/ofrenda was not a thing I was used to do, but since last year I started this tradition.

When he died, I decided to keep some of his belongings in a ‘comfort box’ which I tend to open every time I miss him a lot. So for my ofrenda, I put those things that were his. I really enjoy the process of unpacking the box, taking things out and start setting up the altar. This ritual not only allows me to dedicate some space for my dad and I, it also allows me to be creative and release some of my emotions through this. I tend to put music on (music that he liked) and maybe have a drink or two (in his honour, of course 😉)

Now, I want to show you the end result of this year’s ofrenda:

I want to highlight that despite its cultural roots, the ‘Day of the dead’ conveys universal themes of love, remembrance, and the interconnectedness of life and death. It reminds us to appreciate and honour the lives of our loved ones. This is a beautiful tradition which helps open conversations around death, but as I mentioned, there is more work to be done on this subject.

My goal is to make even a small contribution towards making this topic more approachable, encouraging a sense of thoughtfulness not only in the wake of a loved one's passing but also well before such moments occur.

See you next week,

Fernanda

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