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A day for the Dead

I like the idea of dedicating a day to celebrate death, and honour those who have died. To encourage people out of their private grief through the power of ritual and community support can be of great benefit. The Day of the Dead is a day celebrated within the communities of Mexico, loosely associated with All Saints Day (Hallowe’en).

Imagine sharing one another’s grief and sorrow over the loss of loved ones, but also sharing stories, joy and laughter in the same context.

Imagine familiarising our children with death and dying through the fun of art play and celebration.

Imagine honouring the gifts of life by honouring the dead. If we take time out to contemplate our own deaths we may in turn be prompted to think more deeply of our life path.

Let’s look at some of the symbolic aspects of the Mexican rituals and how might we use them or adapt them for ourselves.

Part of the Mexican tradition involves creating of an altar of offerings to the loved ones who have died.

The altar includes four main elements of nature — earth, wind, water, and fire.
Earth is represented by crop: The Mexicans believe the souls are fed by the aroma of food.

Wind is represented by a moving object: Tissue paper is commonly used to represent wind.

Water is placed in a container for the soul to quench its thirst after the long journey to the altar.

Fire is represented by a wax candle: Each lit candle represents a soul, and an extra one is placed for the forgotten soul.

The above is authored by Mary J. Andrade on her site Day of The Dead ,which is a great site with lots of information and photos of the the celebration across South America.

Ok, so many people in the West wouldn’t dream of creating an altar and may have all kinds of prejudices against the idea of doing so. But if you do feel this way try to think of an altar as a place or area where you might have already gathered some related cherished items. It may be a cabinet at home dedicated to your child’s sporting achievements, or even a scrap book containing mementos of your growing up. Creating an altar isn’t really so different. It is simply the purposeful grouping together of any number of objects in order to facilitate a particular outcome.

Creating an altar is a ritual in itself. It takes thought, reflection, creativity and usually a bit of time. Though how much time is up to you.

You could incorporate the altar idea into a decorated banquet table. The food on the table representing the Earth. Tissue paper decorations or even simply paper napkins, representing the wind. Bowls or jugs of water placed in the centre, and of course candles for fire to symbolise the souls of the deceased. I also suggest the idea of having one spare place set and served to represent all those deceased you are there to honour.

If you do have a separate altar, decorate it with plenty of colourful flowers as well as the offerings to the elements. Invite guests to bring the favourite foods, photos and mementos of their loved ones to lay on the altar, and encourage the telling of stories, the playing of music and anything else that will make your celebration special.

If you encourage the celebration to happen every year on the same day you will find special traditions may grow from small beginnings. Oh and I guess the best time to celebrate is at the same time as the Mexican celebrations, which are the first two days of November or the last day of October when Hallowe’en is celebrated around some parts of the world.

Another fun part of the Mexican rituals I like is the making and distributing of the personalised candy skulls so that the person may ‘eat their own death’.

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