A Happy Day
Outside of Mexico, the Day of the Dead appears silly, if not outright bizarre. What else can be made out of dangling skeletons, skulls made of every imaginable material, including sugar, and macabre monsters of all kinds?
Yet, after a visit to Mexico City, which by chance happened around this Mexican holiday, I see things a bit differently.
“This is my favorite day of the year,” confessed a woman-professor at a local University.
“It gives us a chance to get together with the entire family, and to reminisce about our departed loved ones. We always have such a fun time.”
Fun? In the family of my in-laws on Upper West Side, such occasion would generate tearful silences, soul-searching conversations, and would be considered a generally traumatic experience. Not so in Mexico. The special bread they make for this day is sweet, and they eat it with chocolate. They also make a favorite dish of their grandmothers, lost uncles and cousins, and savor it together. In an unusual way, the Day of Dead becomes a cause for spontaneous mass creativity. Curious altars are created in every home, like mini-museums of the passed family history. There is nothing didactic or sad about those displays. Personal items of the remembered, the aroma of food and marigold flowers, fire of a candle, tissue paper ornaments, fluttering in the wind, period music – all this contributes to a complex multisensory experience.
It is believed that the dead consider it disrespectful to see grieving at their altar.