Dia de los Muertos

Thursday is Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead.  Being raised Catholic, it is also All Soul's Day — the one you don't have to go to Mass for — as opposed to November 1st, All Saints Day — the one you do.

I had never really heard of it growing up, but have become exposed to it since moving to Southern California in 2001.  I think it is a beautiful tradition — and I have come to like it more than the over-blown Halloween in this country.  While the trappings might seem a little macabre, I think it is really a joyful day, albeit one that permits a little quiet reflection.  To me, it is a time to reflect upon lost loved ones and recall them into the here and now.  For families, I think it serves as a great mechanism to convey oral history as stories of the departed are related.

One of my favorite traditions is the laying out of extra place settings and ceramic versions of their favorite foods to entice the presence of the departed.  I got to thinking of my folks and what I should lay out tomorrow.

My father's favorite meals were always big family dinners at the holidays — Thanksgiving and Christmas.  So for Dad, I would lay out the Christmas ham with all the trimmings.

When my mom visited me here in San Diego, I was always tickled by how much she was willing to try new things even when in her 80s.  So, for Mom, I'm choosing her latest (last?) favorite — I'm setting out a nice bowl of pho.

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4 thoughts on “Dia de los Muertos

  1. Because of how much I adore Halloween, I love this holiday, too. Candy calaveras for the win. I, too, like the idea of remembering and honoring all the loved ones that have left, and this year that practice was particularly poignant for me. No food for them (because they all knew I was a horrible cook), but candles lit in their memory. Lame, I guess, but any action done solely for them is something.

  2. Joie — in Catholic tradition, All Saints' Day is a Holy Day (of Obligation) set aside to honor all the Saints canonized by the Church that don't have their own observance days (for example, St. Stephen's Day is December 26th — think Good King Wenceslas lyrics…). Part of the reason to have such days is that you're encouraged not only to pray to God, but also you can pray to the saints for intercession on your behalf — in that "put a good word in for me down here" sort of way.
    All Soul's Day is sort of a catch-all for everyone else that's ever died — maybe they're in heaven, maybe they're in purgatory, hopefully they're not in you-know-where b/c that's the ultimate Lost Cause. In fact, I was taught as a child that you're supposed to offer prayers on All Soul's Day for people that you think might be in purgatory so that they will get to heaven sooner. I am not making that up.

  3. Thanks Hapa! The funny thing is that growing up we were strictly meat and potatoes (and spaghetti!). I never had Chinese food, and didn't know that Vietnamese or Indian cuisines even existed until I went away to college. Later in life, Mom seemed to shrug off worrying about if something was different, it was great. I think she surprised herself!

  4. That idea of laying out extra places is so moving and so creative too. I haven't been exposed to this festival much (we have a number of different days for commemorating deaths counted from the day the person passed) but I think it's a wonderful tradition.

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