Today is the first of a month long series of posts leading up to November second, when we will celebrate Los Dias de Los Muertos, The Days of th Dead. Many more stories, photos, artwork and information on how you can participate can be found at the blogs of Rebecca's recuerdo mi corazon and Stephanie's Mango Studio. Do pay them a visit.
In the meantime, my usual Shadow Shot Sunday post is immediately beneath this one, or you can simply link to Shadow Shot Sunday HERE.
|Time to Party!|
These weekends in October will have me sharing my posts. Besides the usual Shadow Shot Sunday photo meme I participate in with Hey Harriet’s Photography, I’ll also be doing blogposts about Los Dias de Los Muertos at Rebecca’s recuerda mi corazon. When translated, the Los Dias phrase means The Days of the Dead.
I’ll begin today, this first October weekend, with a story about how I was first exposed to this celebration and how it evolved in our own home. Much of it was natural for us, since we always had a hard time following traditions that made no sense to our way of thinking.
Let me briefly explain what I mean by that. When I was growing up, my dad would take my mother to the cemetery so she could lay flowers on her dad’s grave. It was always a somber affair. Being Catholic, we fell to our knees at the gravesite. We made the sign of the cross and prayers were said. There was crying. There was protocol like never stepping on the plot itself, or anyone else's for that matter, walking around grave plots to get from one side of the grave to the other and speaking in whispers.
It was drummed into my head that we were suppose to be quiet. Allow the dead to rest in peace I guess. Pray to God and to Grandpa in heaven. I don’t know what we prayed for. I just said the prayers. The memorized words that were written and taught in the catechism classes I was forced to attend.
None of it made sense. Grandpa died when my mom was nine years old. That would have been in 1929. I wasn’t born until 1949. I never knew the guy, and for that matter, never knew anything about him except that he was dead and that when we went to the cemetery and to the plot where he was buried, we’re suppose to be sad that he’s gone and that we have to say prayers.
Let me move forward about 30 or so years from when I was a ten year old kid.
Our first born daughter was killed in a horrible car accident in 1991. We didn’t know how to react as the mental pain and anguish was, and still is, excruciating. We took our other daughters out of school and we went on a long road trip.
We had a unique situation. The place where we worked was up in the Boundary Waters area of Minnesota. The YMCA camp that we attended to was only accessible by crossing a lake. In November and April, when the lake was freezing and thawing respectively, I was off with pay until I could safely get back across the lake to resume my duties.
So, we took the kids out of school on November first and took off across the country. One of our stops was Los Angeles, California. It wasn’t too long after November first that we arrived in LA. We went to the historic old pueblo of Los Angeles and the old town square along Olvera Street.
There were displays set up for the Days of the Dead. The celebration had just passed a few days before. We were fortunate to find the square filled with altars people had erected for the fiesta. We read stories and learned the history about the celebration. We liked the idea that the lives of those that we have lost to this world were celebrated instead of mourned. Whimsical spirits, shown as the skeletons of those we have lost, were everywhere.
Good food, sugared candy in the shape of skulls, beautiful golden yellow marigolds, bright colorful lights and so much eye candy was around these altars for the loved ones and survivors to share. We thought this a very good idea and it was fun. Gone were some of the tears. Smiles replaced the sullen faces. People, including us, were having a great time with music, dancing, good food and fellowship.
The idea that on November first and second, the spirits have the ability to travel through the realm of the world of the dearly departed to the world of the living.
It is at this time we need to be ready to receive them when they visit us. We need to make sure what they need is displayed so the spirits can travel freely. Water, bread and salt are needed. The items that the spirits liked and were accustomed to as well as items they may have been known for when they were among the living should be there waiting for their spirit visit. An altar is made for these things. The "Offerings", or Ofrenda, is gathered and placed on these altars.
|Our first altar, the size of a shoebox|
On that trip, we bought a small altar, and every year after have made an attrempt to celebrate the life of our loved ones that have passed. The altar we bought was about the size of a shoebox. We still use this as a focal point of our altar, our display. It grew every year and this year, 2011, will be the 20th year we celebrate Los Dias de Los Muertos in our household.
We have collected artwork, when we could afford it, and even made Los Dias decorations that we use year afterv year. Our home now has a permanent display in a corner of our room with artwork, colorful paper cutouts and photos of those we love and have lost.
It has grown from the four of us, Mrs. Spadoman, my two daughters and myself, hanging around and talking about Maggie, the daughter and sister that was lost to us, to a full blown annual event with friends, old and new, attending our fiesta and joining in the celebration, sharing tales of their loved ones lost to this world.
We find a suitable wall and I put up a long table on sawhorses. I make shelves above this and cover it with a colorful tablecloth and bright lights, the kind you’d see outside for Christmas.
|The first large altar I made in 2001|
This is our altar. Pictures of our daughter are displayed along with photos of others we have lost along the way. Items they might have liked or that identified them were displayed. The thinking here is that the spirits, traveling through from the world of the dead to the world of the living, might stop by for a visit. We want them to feel at home, so we place objects they liked and used out on display for them.
The people that attend our fiesta bring photos and objects from the lives of their loved ones as well. All of these things are displayed on the altar.
|Our altar in the forefront, with others on display at a Macalester College exhibit|
The photographs are of the very first Altar that we bought in 1991. The size of a shoebox. Barely visible is a metal crank handle on the right side of the box. Turn this handle and the skeletons mechanically wave their arms.
These other photos are of a larger altar I made to display our ofrenda, (our offerings). We made this display at Macalester College in St. Paul, MN. Mrs. Spadoman worked there then, (and still does!), and one of the professors arranged this event. Other Altars can be seen. I used a plastic basement window-well casing as the ‘crown’ over the display and adorned it with holders for candles. We used this in our home for a couple of years after these photos were taken in 2001 until we outgrew it.
We love this celebration. It is our favorite event. Even now, a month ahead of November 1st, we start talking about our beautiful daughter and how her spirit is alive within our hearts. The Days of the Dead bring us all together with friends and family and we party as if whe is in the next room. This may sound macabre to some, but to us, it is all we want in life.
Next week, Los Dias celebrations through the years and the offerings many of our friends have left with us.