You see every year on November 2, I welcome my family back to this world of the living. Sounds Silly? Yes to some but not to me... Let me tell you about my tradition.
The Aztecs were one of the many Mesoamerican Civilizations that flourished for nearly 40 centuries, Their belief in the afterlife was that people do not cease to exist once they die instead, their soul carried on to the underworld. Where "Lady of The Dead" Goddess Mictecacihuatl, The aztecs believed that our deceased preferred to be celebrated, rather than mourned. The mictecacihuatl festival lasted for about a month in the old world and it was the 9th month on the Aztec calendar.
In 1521 the spanish came and failed to understand Aztec tradition, Implementing the catholic religion upon the land but that was not very effective. Till They reached a compromise a blend per say - The shortening of the festival to two days that coincided with their own celebration "All Saints Day" and "All Souls Day" This was a key change in the Dia De Los Muertos. Aztec custom still prevailed but they still took a few centuries for these traditions to slowly warp to what we know today and what i learned as a child. Even then goddess found a new form in "La Catrina".
This is what i was told when i was a little girl living in Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico.
In the land of the dead there comes the Goddess Mictecacihuatl out of the underworld and calls upon the monarch butterflies to help her transport the millions of souls awaiting passage to visit their love ones in the land of the living... This journey is long and dangerous for the vail between worlds is only opened for a few days. The children mount the butterflies first and embark on their journey as they disappear over the horizon the rest of the adult souls mount the butterflies and set off with the guiding prayers of Goddess Mictecacihuatl. Mean while in the land of the living humans are busy preparing... Building alters that are full of food that the deceased loved as well as alcohol, flowers, playing cards, bread, candy, messages, candles and some butterflies with images of that family member that had passed pictured on the top. You see the dead are the honored guest so no one would touch anything till they arrived and tool in the spirits and energy of the good food and drink that was put there with love..... but remember little one blend in costume your face so they do not think they are different this is a celebration after all you need to look your best for your family. At night we under the candle light would paint our faces white with black rounded eyes... we drew our teeth out side of our mouths and we were skeletons running amok thru the music and the folkloric dancers ... Then we would share a dinner with our beloved visitors speaking to them as we did in life, sharing and remembering things that they said and celebrating their return.... if you are very lucky you will get to see a a real spirit wondering around the cemetery or even your family member ... no need to be scared they are just saying hello and if you feel a chill down your spine or a shiver from being cold... its just the embrace of the dead saying Thank You...
When the rays of the sun hit the graves and we are all fast to sleep they embark back to the underworld where
Goddess Mictecacihuatl waits for them with open arms waiting to hear how their trip was in detail... Dont ever forget to leave something out for her... i hear she likes chocolate.
I remember holding my mothers hand as we went to the market... There was color, sweets and what i loved the most sugar skulls... but i was reminded this holiday was not about the candy. (for a kid that is hard to understand)
I remember them telling me this is a day to spend time with those that have passed on, We need to remember them, cherish our short window of time with them and make sure as our guests in our home that once was their make them feel warm, loved, welcomed and most of all missed.
We woke up super early in the morning, We went to the cemetery with all the family and we cleaned the graves, put new flowers out to decorate them..(all graves where above ground) Some of them were just a pile of sand and decorated with rock if the family could not afford anything more. We would make sure they were arranged nicely and all trash removed from them. We would water what ever plans were there and start decorating the graves... there was so many it seem even graves of people we knew but were not family but friends where cleaned. Things were set out for my Abuelito (grampa) Cigarettes, Tequila, Cards and food ... as well as for my uncle. I remember leaving the booze hidden behind the little gate in his grave... it was hot under the sun but still cold.
I was told not to touch anything in the altar... at this point i understood those things were for my family and they had to have it first before me, So i waited..... and waited.
Dinner was fun in those days my whole family was there and both living and spirits - I remember all the pictures in the altar also the woman doing a prayer circle for the souls of our beloved deceased ones, Then food was given and we all remembered our family as they were in life little did i know this was the lesson i would take when i was older and how much i would treasure this holiday. The moment finally came when i got my sugar skull with my name on it... there was a poem inside in how i died and it was funnier each year... it was like a funny limerick. I eat the sugar skull like no ones business then we were dressed up and off to church for service then the cemetery.
The whole place was candle light and music, laughter and joy filled it. A celebration with our family in whole... funny stories, great memories... by early morning we were home and i was fast to sleep... but in my daze i remember my abuelita talking to an empty room... I think she was talking to my abuelo that had passed before i was born, She put me back to bed but i could swear i saw a man standing in the door way with a blue flannel and a cap with jeans and boots looking at my abuela.. I later learned that was my abuelo and it was confirmed by a picture in an album that was later hanging up in the living room. I was told i was dreaming-
You see for me and my family death in not final, Our family is immortal in a way because we know them so well and learn of them even if we did not know them. They live on in stories and i get to see them every year no matter how far away from home i happen to be they still visit me. I like to talk to them and leave things out for them as they pass me by to see the rest of my family back home.
Now you see, What im hoping you take from this is that "YOU" and "YOUR FAMILY" are always together and instead of morning you should be planning their return annually. What i hope you do when you come to my show in Oct 28th 2015 at The Beachland Tavern is celebrate your family with us. We will be putting out an altar that you are welcome to contribute to and bring something your family member just to love and invite their memory into celebration. I know it's a burlesque show but to me its not just another show.. It's another family reunion. :)
With love Bella