Celebrating the Dead – Manila Bulletin
AT THE MICROSCOPE
When it comes to celebrating All Saints’ Day, Filipinos don’t hold the candle to Mexicans. Even American Halloween capers seem like a breeze. Come November 1st, the whole country of Mexico is bursting into a festive atmosphere as they celebrate Dia de Muertos (The day of the Dead). As we travel to cemeteries and memorial parks to visit and commune with our departed loved ones, Mexicans hold parades, parties and programs complete with towering and beautifully decorated skeleton figures called Calaveras Catrinas, in traditional Mexican costumes and more. It is a recognition of death as a fact of life that we return to dust at the end. I witnessed it, being fortunately in Mexico City during this important holiday.
This celebration dates back to Mexico’s oldest civilizations, including the Olmecs, Zapotecs, Mayas, and Purepecha. The Aztecs celebrate it a month earlier, August, in the current calendar. Unlike other cultures that only mourn their dead, Dia de Muertos emphasizes the continuity of life and the remembrance of past lives. This concept somehow fits with Christian teachings of resurrection, but not just at the end of time, but rather on a yearly basis. This probably made it more palatable to the Spanish conquistadors who let the practices continue.
The celebration is observed over two days. The first day of November is dedicated to children who left this world early. The next day is for adults only. Recently, however, the two have intermingled in an ongoing two-day affair.
In the central squares, the different cities compete with each other to put in place the most artistic offered, colorfully framed altars showcasing their crafts and specialties amidst a profusion of orange marigold flowers (flower of death) lining the path to the altars. Marigold petals are strewn across the aisles leading to the center where a table is filled with food and drink offerings. This is reproduced in individual family houses but on a more modest scale. Photographs of departed loved ones serve as centerpieces. Offerings are also erected in cemeteries where they watch over their dead, as we do in the Philippines.
The belief is when souls come from beyond on appointed days; they are guided to offered by the bright color of the marigolds to share the offerings of their families. After refueling with food and drink, the souls then mingle with loved ones during the festivities before returning to the afterlife, which is neither heaven nor hell but just a continuum of life after the death.
This practice is reminiscent of the practices of my Chinese ancestors of sending their dead along with money in the form of gold and silver paper, food, drink, and miniature paper houses, cars, and furniture for use in the autism. -of the. These are burned at the funerals of loved ones so that they can take them with them on their journey. It is amazing how different cultures come up with the same concepts of the dead and the afterlife.
The Calavera Catrinas are actually a more recent addition to the party, having been created as a caricature of the rich and powerful, reminding them that, as with everyone else, they too will die and become skeletons. Now they are a reminder of everyone’s mortality, which must be accepted as a fact of life. These colorful characters of all shapes and sizes are seen all over Mexico during the days leading up to the holidays and are very popular with locals and tourists alike as clay and papier-mache figurines, on t-shirts, artwork and almost everywhere else. I just had to keep one or two as a souvenir of my short stay in Mexico City, like so many other tourists who came this week.
During the International Congress on the Health and Welfare of Dogs (more on that later), our hosts generously hosted lunches and dinners where performers with skull-painted faces circled our tables posing with guests and performing in tableaux around the room. We were given hats and headpieces decorated with skulls and flowers for photo shoots. Singers and dancers in colorful Mexican costumes entertained us with their beautiful voices and lively steps. Mariachi bands added to the excitement.
I was so mesmerized by the whole show that for a brief moment I forgot what it was about. The souls of the deceased do not return only to commune with their families. Those who died of unnatural causes also return to seek justice, for they will never rest in peace until their killers receive their just punishment. Only then will they be at peace, perhaps to return to their loved ones in happier times. It may take a long time, but it will be done. What turns comes back.
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