The Mexican way of celebrating All Saints’ Day, Nov. 1, is not at all sombre…It is raucous and defiant, observed by drinking tequila, eating mole and tamales, gorging on sugar skulls and pan de muertos…
Not that I’m an expert. Neither the holiday nor the altar were ever traditions in my home growing up in Mexico. When we lived there, it seemed unnecessary — even antiquated — to put up an altar with pictures of our dead relatives and friends. We never visited a cemetery. When people died, they were gone.
After we moved to the United States, I searched for ways to reconnect with Mexico. And as an adult, I wanted my kids to know the language, customs and culture of my native land. So I was thrilled to find that my son’s school celebrated the Day of the Dead. Each child brought a picture of a loved one who had died. They decorated the frames, made skeletons with dried pasta and noodles, sucked on candy skulls. I thought it was funny and endearing that this American school was embracing the holiday that in Mexico City, where I had lived, so few of our friends or relatives had ever celebrated.
But when I walked into the gymnasium, where every class had set up an altar, the magnitude and true meaning of the celebration struck me like lightning. Hundreds of faces, contained in wooden frames, stared back at me. I realized this was not about death. It was overwhelmingly about life. The pictures were an affirmation that these people mattered. They were loved and, even in death, they were essential to those left behind. They were missed, needed and not forgotten.
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