Monday, October 25, 2010

Los Dios de Los Muertos, The Days of the Dead

This beautiful quilted artwork was given to us by a very dear friend
My favorite time of the year is quickly approaching, and I’ve never been so busy. Some short trips, remodeling projects at my daughter’s and here at home and planning for, what we feel, is our favorite holiday, Los Dios de Los Muertos, or translated to English, The Days of the Dead.

Sounds Macabre, but it is a simple celebration, really. It comes from Mexico. On November 1st every year, it is said that the spirits of our loved ones have a chance to return into our world, as spirits, and visit us. We have many loved ones that no longer walk this earth, and our first born daughter Maggie is among them.

An Ofrenda at our home from years past
In the old tradition, family members and friends would gather on November 1st and go to the graveyard. They would sit there all night and “visit” these spirits. They would retire at daybreak back to their homes and have a great feast. The holiday took place over two days, November first and second. Here is a very good site with a description and the history of The Days of the Dead.
There is usually some music
For us, it was a simple stumbling that brought us into the idea that a celebration of our daughter’s life would be appropriate. Maggie passed before us in June of 1991. She died in an auto accident. Later that year, while I was working at a job that gave me November and April off, I took the kids out of school, packed up the family and did a massive 8000 mile road trip.

And plenty of fellowship and food
On this road trip, we passed through Los Angeles to visit friends. While there, we came across this fiesta in the Old Town Square Plaza of Los Angeles along Alameda Street. There were displays set up depicting pictures of people, saintly statues and whimsical bone skeleton figures. We read about these displays and had our first look at a Los Dios de Los Muertos celebration.
Another Ofrenda
We liked the idea. In our own culture, we would go visit the grave site of our loved ones in the cemetery, but didn’t have a party. This was a full out gathering of friends and family complete with great food, music, laughter and some tears. The decorations are colorful and full of whimsy. My daughter loved theatrical arts, her doll skeleton had her on stage, a place where she loved to be when she walked this earth, in a bright red dress for all to see. A few years later, we lost Bobby, Maggie's boyfriend. He was sure to be my son-in-law, but fate had different ideas. Now they are together at our celebration.
More food!
We love the idea that these spirits visit us. We recall their time here on earth with us. An alter is put up and pictures of our loved ones are placed there. We also put things they might have liked along with them. My daughter always has Diet Coke and Nacho Cheese Doritos. My Mother-in-Law has a pack of Pall Malls and a Schlitz. You get the idea. We always put water, salt and bread on this alter. The spirits need these things to travel.

For us, we gather every year, always on November First. Even if it falls on a weekday, like it does this year, we do it on the first. It’s nice and many more people show up when it happens that November First is a Saturday night, but Monday it will be this year and Monday we will celebrate. People will come and bring pictures and mementos for the altar. They will bring food and we will share each others company for however long they want to stay.

Maggie and Bobby take center stage
We leave our alter up for about a week. Here are a few photographs of the alters we have prepared over the years and the tables full of food. As you can see, it is a celebration. Sure, we are sad that our daughter and others we have lost through the years are not amongst us any longer, but for this night, they could be in the next room, frolicking and having a great time right along with us.
And still another
This is what we do here in Spadoville. 2010 will be the 19th time we open our home for Los Dios de Los Muertos. We learned about it in 1991 and started our own fiesta in 1992. I invite you all to attend. If you can’t make it and want a loved one remembered at our ofrenda, (altar), send me a picture and I’ll make sure it has a place. We have done this in the past, and those that have sent me a photo, I want you  to know that I save these photographs and put them up year after year.
If you have any questions about The Days of the Dead, consult the links above or search it out on the web. I hope you are receptive to our tradition and come on over, or be here in spirit, along with the spirits of those we no longer see amongst us.
Double Click it to enlarge

May peace prevail on Earth


Anne said...

Glen's father's death last November is still sending shock waves through our lives. Such a loss. I have always loved that you and Barb observe this beautiful tradition. Some day maybe I'll get there! Peace to all.

english inukshuk said...

once again you manage to bring tears to my eyes Joe

there is more I'd like to say, but not for this moment

I'm just thinking about your wonderful celebration

peace to you, dear man

peace to you and yours

Mel said...


I'm right there with ILTV--choked up and near tears.
And I'm not sure what to say past that confession. Probably 'my stuff' getting in the way-- I do believe it's a wonderful thing, this celebration of a life.

((((((( Spadoman ))))))))

Stephanie said...

You describe this all so beautifully. I love that you have been celebrating this for so many years now. I'm honored too that my shrine will be among the items on your ofrenda this year.

I so look forward to spending dia de los muertos in Mexico this year! and will be thinking of you and your family.

Christopher said...

Thank you, Spadoman. A man of head and heart. There aren't too many...


This Eclectic Life said...

Joe, you and Thorne are the ones who have inspired me to celebrate this year. I've known about it all my life, but had never made an altar. Y'all helped me see the beauty of it.

My altar is in my grandmother's china cabinet, and I'm thinking I might leave it up year round.

Paula Scott Molokai Girl Studio said...

What a beautiful post even if it is laced with some sadness. I have no idea how to survive the loss of a child. But, I guess I have to have faith and be inspired by people like you to find my way back.
I keep meaning to create my own Ofrenda. Maybe I will get one up this year even if it is a smaller version of what I envision.
On Nov. 7th, there is a huge Dia De Los Muertos parade in the south valley. Yep-I plan to go. I'll be thinking of you and our family while there.

Noelle Clearwater said...

I am profoundly moved by these photos. The visitation of Maggie and Bobby's spirits among you each November must be a deep comfort marked with moments of sadness. I too have seen the altars in Los Angeles and it was my first experience with the holiday of Dia de Los Muertos. After that, my uncle passed. I made an Offrenda for him and then a good friend my own age (38 at that time)passed from a parachute accident. Another altar was made, and finally for my dear mom. I have not kept up the tradition as you have. I am amazed and brought to tears by how it has brought family and friends together over the years. I think that it is a lovely and healing ceremony, and a beautiful and healthy tradition. Thank you so much for sharing it.
Peace and Love,

susanna said...

Joe, I absolutely love this post. Yes, I agree with "english inukshuk", it brought tears to my eyes as well. I remember the email that you sent to me earlier in the year about your beautiful, artistic daughter and what Dia de los Muertos means to you and your wife. I also found this special event helpful when dealing with my father's death. What a difference it made for me, when I no longer avoided the thought of my dad (it hurt to do so) and instead, began to celebrate his life. Thank you for writing such a good post.

susan said...

I love this celebration you have every year on behalf of those who've gone before us. We will all get to wherever that mysterious home may be and to acknowledge that afterlife is a respectful and beautiful tribute.

Thank you so much for sending the invitation. I promise I'll be there in spirit remembering my parents and the blessings they showered upon me.

A Wild Thing said...

As a child, I always wondered how I would ever live without my paternal Grandparents, I was very close to them, but now I know they are with me always and I will meet them again on a different level, meeting their spirit self again...what great talks we'll have...the life energy must always be paid back to keep the great circle flowing and what a wonderful thing to honor the life of those who've passed on...they are only waiting.

My thoughts are with your family on this day of the dead.


Anonymous said...

Very moving indeed.
On many levels.
Also encouraging in the way you have taken control of your grief and turned it into joy of sorts.
The 'before us' phrase is the most poignant.
Thank you for giving us this post.

Charlotte said...

My Mum suggested I read this. I'm glad I did. I'm a little nervous of 'sprit' things but this seems lovely. It seems to have given you much peace. If I did this I would hope to visit with my Grandad.

Best wishes

CanadianGardenJoy said...

Joe that was an amazing story of your daughter and her boyfriend. I am sure where ever their energy is in this universe they appreciate your special dedication to them ... as all of the rest of the spirits do too.
Thank you for sharing something so personal and intense .. to lose your child before you die is such a crack in your heart .. but you fill it with much love ... they feel it too : )