Sunday, October 2, 2011

Dia de Bloglandia #1, October 2, 2011

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.


rebecca said...

i have been looking forward to all you would share so much as the days have moved closer to this season of remembering. i love the comfort, healing and closeness this tradition has brought to your family. you have so generously opened your home and hearts to others over the years. i am so honored to have taken a photograph last year to place on the altar on our journey to celebrate dia de los muertos in san miguel last year.
my hope is that you and others who feel so inspired will join me next year when we return again.
thank you for being in my heart and sharing the true message of this season..embracing life fully and living straight from the heart with gusto!

GlorV1 said...

It's wonderful to celebrate our loved ones who are now gone. I am building my altar or shrine for my family no longer here as well as pet members and others. I've been doing this for about 4 years and give thanks to Stephanie who actually really got me started doing this. I fell in love with the idea and sometimes leave my shrine up throughout the year which is what I am doing this year, since my altar/shrine is in my studio outside. Beautiful post, beautiful moments. Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing this. Celebrating our loved ones is exactly what we should do.

CanadianGardenJoy said...

Joe, every time I read about how you and your family came to love this celebration my heart goes out to you in happiness because that is what you and your family have made this celebration into ..and I SO agree with this tradition .. conventional religion does NOT know what to do with grief and the grieving .. but this does and I appreciate every post you do on it .. and .. I might just do one myself *GRIN* .. so look out ? LOL
Joy : )

gma said...

This is a beautiful post. It will be my first year celebrating dia de los muertos. I am looking forward to it. A special day to celebrate those we love so much but are no longer with us! Fantastic.

Cassie said...

It is good that you can pay tribute to your dear daughter and set aside this special time for honoring her memory. Having lived in Phoenix for over 40 years I'm well acquainted with the Day of the Dead and the celebrations that surround it. The little skeleton dogs and cats always make me smile. Since my birthday is Nov.2,even though not a Catholic, I always heard that I was born on All Souls Day. I'm glad that you find comfort and joy in the celebration. My friend Robert has a business, SueƱos, where you can purchase Dia de los Muertos stuff: . It used to be in Phoenix, but he moved to CA, so now is an online place.

susanna said...

Like you, I grew up with a completely different view on death. On the outside, it was a quiet and sombre affair, attending a funeral or visiting a cemetery. However, on the inside, particularly if we have lost someone close to us, it can be far from quiet and sombre. Like you after the loss of your daughter, Dia de los Muertos helped me to grieve for my father in a more healthy way. Setting up an altar was a healing experience.

I think it touching that you and your family participate in this event together - and that you invite others to join in on November 1st or 2nd (that's really quite kind of you). I bet your daughter would love seeing all of you together, laughing, listening to music, telling happy stories.

Mel said...

Makes me smile, sir.

Made me smile when I learned of it--continues to make me smile.
I can feel the anticipatory excitement and gladness.
This is a very cool thing!


yoborobo said...

I have often thought that celebrating a life is the best way to honor it. Your story touched my heart, and I want to thank you for sharing it.

Paula Scott Molokai Girl Studio said...

Had already posted a comment, but it never 'took'! Glad I came back to check...I find so much comfort in your words and your story and I appreciate and admire the bravery it took to deal with such heartsick grief 20 years ago. The grief, I know, never goes away, but learning to celebrate and remember with joy the life of one so dear is inspirational.

Stephanie said...

Thank you so much for sharing the whole story with us...I knew parts or this and maybe I have missed some but reading of your journey to peace is so very touching.

I am honored as well to have shared in Dia de los Muertos with you last year when Rebecca placed your daughters photo on our little altar.

Fran aka Redondowriter said...

What a beautiful and meaningful story and I am deeply touched by how the Spadoman family has taken your daughter's death and made it real. She is always with you. And it's wonderful how you found the celebration initially on Olvera St. (my neck of the woods) and brought it to the people in Minnesota. I look forward to hearing and seeing more.

Cheryl said...

I knew you would have a good story to tell with lots of cool pictures. I love that you have turned a personal tragedy into a yearly celebratory event and are sharing it with neighbors and friends. That's the only way to go. Halloween lost its allure decades ago but DDLM really turns me on. Who knew?

Janet Ghio said...

I love the altar you have made for your daughter and how it continues to grow every year and how you celebrate her life. I am not Catholic or Hispanic, but I have a great affinity for some of these traditions. I have a shrine in my home for Our Lady of Guadalupe filled with may items I have collected over the years. I have made several Dia de los Muertos and Guadalupe art quilts. thanks for visiting my blog-I look forward to your posts for the rest of the month.

mig said...

It's a wonderful idea that there is a day when loved ones can revisit us if they wish. And of course celebrating their lives is so much wiser than endless mourning - it's like the other side of the coin, grief on one side and joy on the other.

susan said...

I knew about 'The Day of the Dead' celebrations for a long time before I met you, but knowing you and having come to understand the healing you and your family have received from this tradition has been a revelation for me. I wish you all peace and happiness and many blessings for your loved ones here and in the next world.

Magical Mystical Teacher said...

Spadoman, this is a wonderful piece of writing. Your heart and your soul shine through. Your love for Maggie will never fade, but grow ever stronger, as you welcome her year by year. I don't know what more to say. Just know that I am grateful for what you have shared. Thank you, my friend.