catrina, la mision baja california, mexico
© 2012 erin dunigan
‘Day of the Dead‘ may sound like a morbid description for a holiday, at first, but as celebrations go, morbid is hardly the word for it.
Festive is a much better description of the day – a day that acknowledges and remembers those who have gone before us (our ancestors, as some might describe them, or the ‘saints’ as is more common in the language of the Christian church) and celebrates their memory even as they continue to live on in us.
It is a classic melting of an indigenous Aztec celebration with the Catholic beliefs and culture that came to overlay (some might say colonize) that existing practice in what we now know as Mexico.
Day of the Dead, as with All Saints Day (November 1) in the strictly traditional sense, is a day to remember that we in our individual lives are not isolated, but part of something much larger than our own personal existence.
As Franciscan Friar and author Richard Rohr puts it, in our individual selves we are part of a larger ‘we’ (the we of our country, our tribe, our religion, our ancestors) that, in turn, is a part of the ‘great I am’ – what the mystics throughout the ages have seen as the ‘univocity of being‘ or the connectedness of all that is.
The Day of the Dead is a day to stop, to pause, and to celebrate those who have given us life, our lives, to remember them well, and to live out their legacy as we carry it forth into our lives as they unfold.
The author of the book of Hebrews, in the Christian Scriptures, put it this way:
Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses let us throw off all that hinders and entangles and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.