Days of the Dead

We’ve just come back from visiting our friends in Mexico. It’s been incredible. I had been dreaming about day of the dead for many years. Ever since I have been working around the areas of death and dying, it’s been calling me from a distance. The Mexican approach to celebration around death was something that I had observed across the Atlantic for some time — but last week — I was lucky enough to experience it with my own eyes. What an incredible opportunity that is.

It felt such an honour to observe and witness Día de Muertos. I can not believe how much energy, creativity, commitment and dedication goes into every tiny, soon to be dismantled, element of the festival. It would put any funeral to creative shame.

The first thing I didn’t realise was there are actually 2 nights — The first nights is ‘All Saints Day’, the day of the innocent — the dead children. Then the second ‘All Souls Day’ where all the dead are remembered.

The main difference from how I had imagined this was that it’s less of a parade festival, like James Bond might suggest... Instead the festival is celebrated in the family home and it also spills into local public squares.

We were in San Miguel on those important days where there was a small parade with members of the community dressed up as the dead. Stylish death. With painted skeleton faces, all teeth and grins, people dressed in their best suits ooze onto the streets parading and dancing behind a big band.

Day of the Dead altars are built in people’s homes and workplaces. Key people of a local community would be celebrated in town squares. On the day of the dead, people buy treats for their altars to entice the dead into their homes, everyone eager to feel that close connection with their deceased. And the dead love sweet things, and they really love tequila. The altars need to be covered in flowers, fruit, water, and once ready many candles are lit to bring the spirits home.

Families also create murals out of wood shavings, and they make or buy treats for their departed loved ones, depending on what they used to love. Anything from tequila to their favourite tacos. Many alters are covered in bees during the day because of the heat and all the sweet stuff!

During the day graveyards are centre to the celebrations and are decorated with day of the dead flowers and bunting as people lay sweet treats, light candles and families tour their graveyards. They also pour a bottle of their favourite spirit onto their graves. Extra special people’s graves are recreated in the town square for all to see.

I really want to think about how we can bring a little bit of Mexico to London next year for the day of the dead. Their inspiring approach to ritual is way beyond laying a reef on a grave for christmas. I think we need an alternative that goes beyond dressing up, but a combination of small acts that can be meaningful to everyone.

The Question I’m left asking is… “How can we meaningfully create inspiring rituals, to remember, and most importantly celebrate our dead.”