El Dia de los Muertos. (Sorry, I haven’t figured out how to do those little accents on my keyboard and I’m not sure about the capitalization of Spanish words.) And now with those little disclaimers out of the way, let’s get on with the post. El Dia de los Muertos. The Day of the Dead. It coincides with our Halloween and children get treats, but other than that it’s not even close to the same thing.
I’m not a “dark” kind of person. I don’t like crime-dramas, horror movies or scary skeletons. As a kid, I was much more likely to carve a goofy, grinning pumpkin than a ghoulish one. And I don’t like anything jumping out at me. All that said, The Day of the Dead is a holiday I could really get into.
I grew up with skeletons representing haunted houses and scary stuff like zombies, fright nights and chainsaw massacres. In Mexico, and other Spanish-speaking cultures around the world, skeletons become brightly colored works of art. The holiday is spiritual, not scary. Not to rain on your trick-or-treating parade, but it really means something. It focuses on gatherings of friends and family to remember loved ones who have died.
I think it’s a beautiful tradition. We have our funerals, but then we’re left alone to sadly mark the passage of time — birthdays, anniversaries and holidays without our loved ones. Imagine coming together with family and friends every year to celebrate the memory of those we have lost. To feast and make music! At gravesites even! Consider the beauty of this celebration (click here) in Merida, Yucantan, just an hour outside of the small fishing town where I stayed. Next time, I’ll better coordinate my trip to see this in person.
And next time, Neydi says she’ll cook the Yucatan’s special dish for the festivities: pibi. It all seems to vary a little by region but from what I understand (yes, another disclaimer) The Day of the Dead actually lasts three days, with each state’s speciality meal being served on the second day, November 1st. Pibi is a kind of cake made of dough and chicken or pork and baked chicken and so is called pibipollo (for chicken). When I explained I don’t eat meat, Neydi assured me, “No carne. Pollo.” I felt like John Corbett in My Big Fat Greek Wedding when the aunt yells, “YOU DON’T EAT NO MEAT?!” and then says, “That’s okay, I make lamb.”
November 2nd, the party usually moves to the cemeteries, where families clean and decorate graves with flowers like the orange Mexican marigolds,
Don’t get me wrong — I still plan on passing out candy and I’ve already purchased an infant T-shirt for Frankie with a Mexican flag on it. I’m just saying, if you’re not doing anything but nursing a toothache those first few days of November, it might be a good time to think fondly on those not with us. After all, Mexico’s doing it. And I think they might be onto something.