As I mentioned in my earlier post August is all about Celebrating Your Life Now as part of celebrating not only my 60th but also Life itself, I will be introducing some guests to write about their thoughts on Celebrating Life.
My first guest is Leslie Roberts Clingan from Once Upon A Time & Happily Ever After, Life After Retirement. I have only known Leslie a few short months and in fact, we are still trying to look at our family tree to see if we are related (on the Roberts side). However, I think we must be related because Leslie is a vibrant, happy women enjoying her retirement and her family including her gorgeous grandchildren – sounds a little like me I think!
Today, Leslie shares with us a celebration Dia de Los Muertos which I have previously seen a documentary about. I will let her tell you about it plus the personal reason why she tries to live life to the full. Enjoy reading Leslie’s post and I have included a little about her and her website and social media links so you can get to know her.
I am honored to be one of Sue’s guest bloggers for Sizzling Sue’s Sixtieth Selebrations during her birthday month of August. When she invited me to participate by writing a post to support her “Celebrating Life Now” theme, I immediately thought of a holiday observed in the American southwest Texas city of El Paso where I live.
Actually, Dia de los Muertos is most commonly associated with Mexico but is celebrated throughout Latin America and now parts of the United States. It has become one of my favorite holidays; one I first discovered after moving to El Paso, where the community is predominantly of Hispanic/Mexican descent.
Dia de los Muertos is celebrated over 3 days, from October 31-November 2. There are no mascots or magical characters associated with this holiday. No gift-giving. No cavity-causing candy. It is really just a time to spend with family remembering and honoring the lives of those who have passed. Not all together different from the American holiday Memorial Day.
But at the heart of this tradition are altars built to welcome the deceased back to earth from the other side, from heaven.
It is believed that on Dia de los Muertos, spirits return to visit their living family and friends, and the altars are created to provide everything the spirits will need to make their brief return pleasant.
To begin, an altar is often referred to as an ofrenda because much of what is collected for the altar is actually being offered to the spirits for their comfort. It is usually arranged on a table top, often one reserved for this purpose.
Ofrendas usually have several tiers. While these altars are as unique as the individual they are created to celebrate, they do contain certain basic, often symbolic elements.
- Candles or velas in Spanish, are lit to help direct the spirits back to earth and to their altars.
- Marigolds, cempasuchitl, are the flower of choice when creating an altar. Their bright color and pungent smell also serve to guide the spirits back.
- Incense, incienso, is usually present on an altar. In particular, copal incense which is often thought to be a holy or sacred or ceremonial incense. I didn’t put it on my altar but have in the past.
- Salt, sal, in a shaker or just sprinkled on the altar represents the continuation of life.
Photos of the deceased.
- Sugar skulls or calveras de azucar, serve several purposes. They are beautiful and add color, represent life, can be used as offerings to the deceased or given as gifts to those who visit the altar. I have seen sugar skulls designed using the favorite colors of the person being celebrated and sometimes labeled with the deceased’s name.
- Food, comida, is placed on the altar. Often times fresh fruit, tamales and mole (a saucy gravy made from cocoa, pronounced moh-lay) are left on the ofrenda.
- Water or agua is provided to quench the thirsts of tired, traveling spirits.
- Toiletries, like soap and water, habón y agua, made available so the spirits can freshen up after their trip to earth.
- Bread of the dead or pan de muertos. Delicious! A slightly sweet bread with just a hint of anise, baked in the shape of a skull or bones and dusted with sugar. The bread symbolizes soil of the earth and the bones of the deceased.
- Perforated paper or papel picado is draped above or around the altar. It is used for additional color and represents the wind and the fragility of life. The traditional papel is cut from tissue paper.
In 2001, my 3 year-old nephew lost his fight with Wilm’s Tumor. Every year since, I have built an ofrenda in Andrew’s memory. He loved Batman, Chick-fil-a, Buzz Lightyear and frogs, so in the photo of his altar above, you find symbols of his favorite things in life.
Andrew loved life and lived everyday with the rambunctious energy of a healthy 3 year-old. After his death, my family become more spiritual. And we all made an effort to begin living life like Andrew…with joy and a sense of celebration for every day.
The end of July, my daughters and granddaughters came to visit me. We celebrated the birthdays of both my daughters and my oldest granddaughter. Instead of spending a fortune for gifts no one really needed, we decided to make some special memories together. And have agreed going forward that we want to use every opportunity that we can be together to celebrate life and our love for one another.
When families gather at the cemetery on November 2, for the culmination of the Dia de los Muertos activities, they pack picnics, play music and games, talk and laugh and share happy memories of their loved one. I think we can all take something away from that mindset.
Life should be a celebration. And a life well lived should be celebrated, too.
Thank YOU for joining me in this celebration of life. For more information on Dia de los Muertos, check out these websites: Decoding the Food and Drink on a Day of the Dead Altar, Dia de los Muertos and Day of the Dead Art. There are a number of great children’s books about this celebration including the two featured on my altar Day of the Dead by Diane Hoyt-Goldsmith and Pablo Remembers by George Ancona.
Happy birthday, Sue. Thank you for inviting me to participate in Sizzling Sue’s Sixtieth Selebrations. Your enthusiasm for the life you have created is contagious and inspirational. And because of you, I am already rounding up, saying I’m 60 when I have a half-year to go. But who’s counting, right?
In what felt like the blink of an eye, I have gone from full-time wife to my sweet husband, hands-on mom to my two beautiful daughters and elementary school librarian to a retired, empty nester with lots of time on my hands. Join me on my journey to rediscover who I am. Always glad to make new friends with whom to share this new adventure.
I do hope you enjoyed Leslie’s post and thoughts on Celebrating Life Now!