El Día de los Muertos is just around the corner so it gets me to thinking a little about death. Not in a Macabre sort of way but more in the humorous way Mexicans celebrate on The Day of the Dead …and about what my mom says that it’s not estar muerto but estar muerto en vida that is more fearsome.
Few countries view death the way that Mexicans do: with offerings, with songs, with respect and with humor.Yes, humor! November 1st and 2nd may fall around the time of Halloween, there are skulls and bones involved but it’s not scary at all…not about trick or treating, nor about scary costumes.
In fact there is no fear associated with the celebration, despite the pervasive Las Calaveras Catrinas… It’s a day to honor your ancestors with family and friends, party and just have a little fun, actually celebrate life. You start by building an altar to the loved ones who have passed.
Cook the food that they liked and leave it out for them to come back and eat the essence of it along with sweet things. Hold vigils with candles and stay up the night. And, the children, they have a blast… to begin with they have the day to get new clothes and shoes and show them off throughout the festivities as well as enjoy the sweet skull and bones, . Exchange trinkets.. you get the picture. Rogelio of the restaurant Los Tacos by Chef Omar recalls his days in Michoacán, Mexico.
Think about it. If when one dies one gets to choose the family one is to be born in what would you choose? A rich family? A family with good-looking genes? A family with … whatever? To me, I think I’ll tell God … Give me again a family que tenga espíritu... it comes first. Do you know what I mean?
¿Tienes Espíritu? Believing in God. Doing what your Spirit moves you to do.. or maybe…Do you act and feel young?
I’ll explain. My mom always said that a person either had espíritu or didn’t. “Ese tiene espíritu.. Ese no tiene espíritu…” She thought that people either had it or not. And when they did not she would say, “Ese está muerto en espíritu.” Therapists and psychologists have other terms for this, I’m sure. I know some of you are psychologists and therapists. Feel free to share your expertise
She has been the kind of person that if you say… Oye quieres ir a ….? O quieres hacer tal cosa...? She has la cartera ready to go out the door and have a good time…
As my friend Ingrid, whose family is from Barranquilla, Colombia explains: In Latin countries the entire family goes to the party, as in Los Carnavales, la abuela, los nietos, la gente joven. Yes, it can be really late at night but they brought a little colchón for the kids to sleep in while the rest of the party goes on.
I’ll never forget how a while ago… I had pretty good seats to go see Ricky Martin. But last minute, about an hour before the concert, I couldn’t go. Had some kind of deadline in a previous job. The first call I made was to my mom who lived an hour away. I call. Mom what are you doing? I’m putting dinner on the table. Mom I have tickets to Ricky Martin but can’t make it, it’s in an hour do you want to go? She and my stepfather Anthony showed up in 45 minutes. You don’t think of the obstacles .. eso es tener espíritu…
It’s not unusual to go to Miami Beach, see people bringing a few snacks and a radio and dancing to Salsa. Ecstatic with a few simple Doritos and dancing freely sin ninguna pena. If you go to a beach or park in Miami or South Florida and see this kind of scene…instead of complaining about the volume being too loud… try getting up and joining the party… I guarantee you won’t regret it… Nadie te quita lo bailado.
Don’t think for a moment that I’m saying that tener espíritu resides only with Hispanic folks, of course not. But I do see it in some places more than others. I had a Chinese roommate for three years following college, her name was Grace, who was the same as my mom. Want to go to that rooftop and see the sun rise tomorrow? Yes. Want to go to the Everglades? Yes. Let’s go to that concert, the beach, etc.. Yes. Yes. Yes. We were in the car within 10 minutes to go out and see the world. Grace said that in her country it’s called having Yang energy. Ying and Yang are probably both important.
Back to El Día de los Muertos. This is of course about honoring people who actually died. Don’t be fooled by the macabre-looking skeletons that are displayed during El Día de los Muertos. This is all in good humor… Mexicans are the only people in the planet who actually laugh at death. (From what I understand…people from Thailand grieve the dead for the first three days and then after that they eat cake and party to celebrate the life and afterlife of the deceased. Trying not to grieve too much so as to not disturb the deceased person’s adventure in the afterlife. But that’s different from actually laughing and making jokes about it.)
The Mexican artist José Guadalupe Posada painted the first La Calavera Catrina around 1910 – 1913.
He was poking fun at Catrina, who was a greedy rich woman who did nothing to help poor people, according to the legend. This drawing was a sensation and people began to dress up in fancy attire and paint their faces white to mock her and look like a skeleton ever since then. Although at the beginning La Catrina may have symbolized the cruel disparity in social classes…because times were indeed cruel. The poorer classes were completely powerless. With time it has become more of a humorous look at death.
So what if we find ourselves in a funk sometimes and don’t have Espíritu, the drive to do things. We all have a time of life like that. Especially, moms who are exhausted… been there…hello! But if it’s severe enough, by all means, seek help with a professional therapist or life coach. Or attend workshops on creativity, I have, and these are some of the things we have talked about. Algunas actividades que ayudan a despertar el espíritu y creatividad:
Escribe – Journaling…get up in the morning and fill up three pages with uncensored writing. Don’t read it. It’s not for anyone to read it’s only for expressing.
Sáca tiempo para el espíritu – Artist dates… a date with yourself…yes. I think that relaxing and observing precedes creativity. Spend time being a tourist whether it’s out of town or in your own hometown and observe people, places, nature, things. Be spontaneous.
Canta, Baila, Dibuja o Pinta – Sing, Dance, Draw, Paint. Express Yourself…even if it means taking water paint and painting the patio different colors and hosing it down afterwards.
La Meditación y la Oración. Prayer and Meditation.
Here is a video that you can share with the family for these special days.
Las Calaveras literarias del Dia de los Muertos are traditional verses that are composed to help celebrate this day. They have been around since the 19th Century to actually channel the expression of some things that have been difficult to express otherwise, such as discontent with corruption and the political situation. As you might imagine they have been heavily censored and destroyed in the past. Here are some to help you enjoy with your family on this Day of the Dead. Enjoy!
Javier from Los Tacos by Chef Omar Restaurant shares his viewpoint on this day. Los Tacos by Chef Omar of Boca Raton, Florida, is the place to go celebrate this Dia de los Muertos from afar if you find yourself in that area. Their food is authentic from Ciudad de Mexico.
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