I’ve been studying Spanish for about 10 years now (which is crazy), but there’s something very different about studying Dia de los Muertos and partaking in it for yourself. If you’re not familiar, Dia de los Muertos is a Mexican holiday, November 1st and 2nd, when the people honor those in their lives who have passed by building altars to them. It has been the topic of conversation in our Spanish class for weeks now and I’ve learned though it can be a very hard holiday to celebrate, it is also a really beautiful one. You get to remember that person, decorate the altar with pictures of them and things that they enjoyed while they were living, whether that’s their favorite food or drink or simple things to remind you of them. Fully decorated with pictures of the loved one, flowers or flower petals, veladoras (tall candles) and the pan de muerto (bread shaped like a body, we eat to embody the characteristics of the ones who have passed), it’s a beautiful sight to behold.
In our Spanish class, we built a little altar of our own. Literally, it was really little. For the 5 of us in class, we split up a shoe box, claiming rooms and colors to represent those who we wished to honor. I chose to build an altar to my great-grandmother, Sally Prather, who passed away in 2005. She was always such a happy woman and every memory of her that I have makes me smile. I asked my mom about her likes and personality since I only really remember her after the alzheimer’s was so prevalent, but in that one phone conversation, we shared laughs and joy about the person she was and what she meant to our family. I constructed her pink room with mini altars to the experiences of Disney World with the whole family and numerous time spent at her Florida apartment, a site we still frequent. The sewing kit and nail polish for some of her favorite activities, as my mom recalled, and a book of poetry, as she used to read poetry to keep her mind sharp. But of course the most important part of it all to me are the baby socks underlying the whole room, ones she would have put on her sweet baby doll Mary Anne’s feet, keeping her warm while we went out to lunch.
This morning at church, our congregation celebrated this holiday with a combined special service, complete with a breathtaking altar at the front of the church. As soon as you walked into the sanctuary, the strong scent of incense over took you and the visual beauty of the altar was moving. It was a holistic service, acknowledging the pain that comes with loosing loved ones, songs of lament echoing in the church, but it was also a service to honor and celebrate life. It was shared in joy with stories and upbeat music too. Later, as we celebrated communion, we did so using the pan de muerto, a cross cultural experience that was holy in its own way. I even got to participate in worship in all my favorite ways: singing in the choir, accompanying an a cappella song with a solemn, simple drum beat, and then later getting to drum along with my whole heart to an upbeat Samba. I desperately wish I could share this powerful service with each one of you, but I hope you too take the time to see the depth and beauty in such a holiday as this.