Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is a Mexican holiday that has grown exceptionally popular in the US over the last few years. When searching for Halloween costumes that my toddler would wear for more than a few seconds, I came across a “Day of the Dead” skeleton costume. While shopping for snacks at Trader Joe’s, I saw planters decorated with brightly painted skulls. Other big box stores I visited were full of Day of the Dead decor, as well.
Personally, I don’t take offense to this “cultural appropriation” as some have suggested. I actually welcome the fact that we are embracing Dia de los Muertos in this country, not only because of the beautiful decor and artistic creations inspired by it, but because the significance of the holiday is beautiful.
Dia de los Muertos – A Quick Summary
Day of the Dead is traditionally celebrated on November first and second. On November first, it’s believed that the souls of children who have passed visit their living family members. On November second, all other souls return to visit and celebrate with their loved ones. People spend weeks preparing for the return of their loved ones. They clean and decorate graves, especially with cempazuchitl (Mexican marigolds). They make their loved ones’ favorite foods and erect altars as a sign to their loved ones that they have not been forgotten. It’s as much a celebration of life as it is a mourning and grieving of death.
A Timely Holiday for Wine Country
Each and every one of us in Wine Country was affected by the devastating wildfires that ravaged our community in early October. The fact that this disaster came on the heels of the holiday season left me wondering, “Can we celebrate after such an event?” How can I celebrate in my home when so many around me have suffered such great loss? It seems impossible.
However, I have come to the conclusion that I must. I need to embrace the holiday season that is upon us, because ultimately it’s the experiences and memories we create that will stay with us forever. Dia de los Muertos can be the bridge that brings our community together through love, family, loss, and grief.
Therefore I encourage you, my beloved community, to embrace it as a form of healing.
Whether you already know about Day of the Dead or are just now being introduced to it, this can be the year to begin new traditions. You can honor those whose lives were lost to the fires, as well as honor the heroes that fought endlessly to protect our lives, homes, and community. Dia de los Muertos is a celebration of the love around us from family and friends, both near and far.
How you can celebrate Dia de los Muertos
Attend a Community Celebration
There are many local celebrations just around the corner sure to give you a feel for the holiday. Below are some popular events for celebrating in Wine Country. I haven’t personally attended all of these events, so exercise caution when choosing events for yourself and your family to attend.
Point Reyes Station – Saturday, October 28
Healdsburg Plaza – Sunday, October 29
Windsor Town Green – Sunday, October 29
Santa Rosa Courthouse Square – Wednesday, November 1 and Thursday, November 2
Santa Rosa Central library – Wednesday, November 1
Create Your Own Altar
A central component of Dia de los Muertos is building an altar for those that have passed. Altars can be extravagant and adorn the entrance to your home. Conversely, they can take up a small space on a bookshelf. The choice is yours! Then access the artist in you for decorations. Most altars have photographs and memorabilia to represent loved ones. However, with so many possessions lost in the fires, the altar can contain abstract objects to represent loved ones. A baseball hat for the baseball fan, their favorite tequila (or wine), or their favorite flowers. Sugar skulls and marigolds are quintessential, but not necessary. A quick run to a mainstream store for Day of the Dead decor is also a great option.
Perhaps you are fortunate not to have lost anyone in the fires and you don’t have any close friends/family who have passed. However, you can create an altar to honor the loss and tragedy experienced in Wine Country. Pay tribute to all the men and women who have died over the years fighting wildfires and fires in general.
Have a Special Meal
No Mexican tradition is complete without food! Traditionally, people cook the favorite foods of their departed loved ones, as it is believed they will come back to eat what is made for them. There’s even a special bread baked during this time – pan de muerto. If for any reason you cannot attend a community event and building an altar is too overwhelming, consider treating your loved ones to a special meal. Take time to gather, eat, and honor the memory of lost loved ones.