Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is an important Mexican holiday that celebrates and honors the lives of loved ones who have passed on. Since the start of this tradition by the Aztecs about 3,000 years ago, Día de los Muertos has changed and evolved over time, but like the memories of our ancestors, it has never disappeared. With the arrival of the Spaniards into Mexico, and the introduction of Christianity, Día de los Muertos moved from a summer celebration to Nov. 1st & 2nd to coincide with All Saints Day & All Souls Day. This holiday is a time to celebrate, eat, drink, clean the graves of our loved ones, and bask in the happy memories of our beloved dead. Regardless if you are of Mexican decent, honoring our ancestors is always a beautiful thing to do.
For me, autumn is one of my favorite seasons! The hustle and bustle of summer activities, cookouts, and bright sunny beach days slow down as we make the transition to longer nights, trees putting on an amazing display of beautiful reds and oranges, and the smell of pumpkin spice (on everything, everywhere lol)! Autumn is also a time of looking more inward, offering us a chance to look at our lives. It’s the time of year where we stare into the light and warmth of our fireplaces. They say, “the veil between the living and the dead is at its thinnest” this time of year, and most specifically Nov. 1st & 2nd. So, this is a fantastic time to do some things to help reconnect with our own ancestors. Here is a list of 5 things I offer up to you to do over these next few days to honor those who have passed on.
Building an altar is a wonderful way to honor our dead. What you’ll want to do is find, or create, a place in your home that you can easily assemble a few things that remind you of the loved ones you’d like to honor. Sometimes we get fixated on trying to make this perfect, or think it has to be elaborate. It doesn’t! It can be as simple or elaborate as you’d like to make it. Remember, this altar is for the relationship between you and your loved ones, no one else matters. For my altar to my parents, I used a beautiful piece of silk my best friend gave me as a base, then gathered things that were special to each of one of my parents.
These items are on my altar:
•A photo of my parents • a Waterford crystal bowl I bought my mom from the trip she and I went on to Ireland • one of my dad’s model trains that we used to wrap around our Christmas tree • feathers & crystals that are important to me • a petrified sand dollar that reminds me of my mom • two incense cones that smell like the woods to remember all the amazing camping trips they took my siblings and I on growing up • fresh flowers
You can sit with your altar, meditate and think of them, talk to them, reflect on the impact they had on your life, and most importantly thanking them for the gifts they gave you.
Now, I know my grandmother will be reading this and I mean no offense to her, or my mom’s side of the family, but the Irish aren’t known for their culinary accomplishments! So, maybe I’ll make some mashed potatoes and add that to my Lebanese (my father’s side) meal, which I do really enjoy! Cooking a traditional meal is a great way to honor and remember our ancestors, and to infuse even more powerful medicine into your food… talk about your ancestors, laugh, tell funny stories about them, play fun music, dance, and enjoy the act of preparing foods in a way that helps you be delighted to eat it as well!
Music is one of those things that carries memories with it and it can be a powerful tool to access feelings or remember things time may have taken out of our memory. I have two distinct music memories of my parents that always make me laugh, and even to this day I can be transported back to these moments as if I was there!
I got sad one time a few years back because I couldn’t remember the sound of my mom’s voice. Man that hurt, but as I quickly went through my life experiences trying to pick up on anything that would jog the sound of my mom’s voice I came to this story. I can remember walking home from school with my friend and from the end of the block I could hear music. As we got closer to my house I distinctly remember hearing this woman’s voice singing along with Steven Tyler’s voice. As my friend and I went into my house we walked in on my mom mopping the dining room floor belting out an Aerosmith Song! That memory helped me remember her voice, which I am grateful for.
My dad was not much of a singer, but I can remember one time when he was all excited because he bought the “Flashdance” soundtrack (on vinyl). Early Saturday and Sunday mornings my dad and I would go in the basement and “hit the gym” with “What a Feeling” blasting in the basement. He’d be riding his air bike in his tighty whities, smacking his belly, singing this song at the top of his lungs and I’d be lifting 5lb weights bulking up! Music can be a great key to unlocking precious memories.
If you live near your loved one’s grave, it’s a wonderful thing to go visit it and cleaning up. Washing away any dirt or moss, pulling weeds, and leaving flowers are all great ways to care for their hallowed ground. For those of us who don’t live near the grave, or if they were cremated, you can find a special place in nature that speaks to you. I live across the country from my parents grave, but I honestly never go there even when I’m home visiting because it doesn’t mean anything to me. I’ve felt my parents energy while hiking the beautiful mountains here in Portland, sitting at the beach, and many other random places out in nature.
I can’t remember where I heard this saying, but I was told once that our Spirits experience three deaths. Once when our physical body dies, the second death happens when those who knew us stop talking about us, and the third and final death is when the last person who knew us passes away. Remembering, and talking about our beloved dead helps keep their memory alive!
About 16 years ago, as I was driving cross country to my new home in Phoenix from Rhode Island. I was driving through the corn fields of Nebraska, blasting Craig David’s newest album when out of the blue I got chills. As I fixed my gaze forward, I knew without a doubt, if I looked in the passenger seat, I would have seen my mother sitting there. About 3 years ago after my father passed away, I was in my basement doing laundry when I got those same chills. Now, basements are usually creepy, but this time I knew again, if I turned around I would have seen my father standing there.
The point is, our loved one’s energies are around us & it’s a beautiful thing to reach out and connect with their energy. Whether you sit & meditate about them, talk out loud as if they were there, or pray to them – making an effort to connect with our loved ones who have passed is a beautiful, heartwarming, and powerful way to connect with and honor our loved ones who have passed on.
I hope you are able to do some of these things, and let me know how they worked out for you by leaving a comment below!