Skulls, Sticks, Stones plus a Feather… Marvelous Bits on El Dia de Los Muertos

When I was a young child, growing up in the Dominican Republic, my maternal family celebrated El Dia de Los Muertos with color, food, laughter, song and tales about the dead for the living. We would gather at my Grandmother’s house, clean the place in and out.

After the house and yard cleaning was done, and while a good stew bubbled in a huge pot, my Grandmother, sometimes my siblings, my cousins and I, would strip the front yard cross from the prior year’s dressing and re-deck her with bright papers and sparkly bits.

Sometimes on that same day, but most often before, we would visit our buried dead and clean their tombs. This was no sad business, my Wicked Luvs… In fact, everyone around was laughing—grownups drinking, kids eating sweet bread (and the occasional sip of red wine)—sharing tales about the lives of the ones who no longer breathed.

I miss that part of my heritage, for I’ve never found quite the same in the United States. Still, I have all the memories… They find their way into my stories… And every All Hallow’s Eve, I decorate my altar, listen to music my dead used to love, cook something that would have made them smile—burn tobacco incense for my Grandmother, drink a shot of whiskey for my baby brother. Thinking of them does make me cry, but I also smile at the same time.

My hope is that they are watching… That they see the light, which burns through the night… and that they know that in my heart, they will always be alive

This year, the colors on and around my altar are gifts from dear friends. Actually, I do this every year. I collect every present I receive around the Fall, and they become part of my All Hallow’s Eve shrine. While I’m finding a place for the pressies, I speak aloud to those who have traveled to the Summerlands. I tell them about the person who sent the gift… so that they always know what I’m up to.

The following are this year’s colors and decorations:

A trick-or-treat coffin-shaped cabinet, from my beloved Oma Linda.

A painted singing heart, from my Stacy… When I shake it, it emits the sweetest sound.

This ginormous pine cone and stick are a gift from my friend, Esther. She picked them up during a trip to Oxford… It was accompanied by pictures and yummy poetry.

This dream feather is from Sharon. I’m going to tell you more about it soon…

The copy of Dancing on the Grave came from Yvonne’s All Hallow’s Read giveaway. The Wager and all the other yummy books are gifts from Oma Linda. The critters, bookmark and sweets are also from Yvonne—there were more sweets, the critters ate them *cough*. Oh, if you look at the top right corner of the second picture, you’ll see the Autumn colors outside my window. ;-)

Stacy and Sharon sent me a bunch of stunning stones. I set them in a circle in the center of my altar. I LOVE when the sun shines on them, and they just sparkle happily…

This twisted, beaded beauty is from my Oma Linda, too.

I had to show you what the trick-or-treat coffin looks like in its natural habitat *tee-hee*

More stones from Stacy and Sharon, under a frame (from Ms Misantropia) so pretty that I can’t get myself to put a picture in it. I know; a bit mad. But the thing is such a beaute!

The shiny red skeleton is from Rommy. And the two wands are also from Sharon. They were supposed to go in my hair, but have now become part of my ever-growing altar… 
since your wicked witchy writer woman cut all her hair up. *cackles and giggles*

 I hope you had a wonderful All Hallow’s Eve, Halloween, Samhain… and that today and tomorrow make El Dia de los Muertos just as sweet.

How do you celebrate the lives and memories of those who came before?

45 comments:

  1. Magaly, I enjoyed reading this post so much - the memories of childhood (wonderful! such a rich cultural heritage!), your remembrances of your loved ones, which keeps their spirits strongly alive, and the photos of your many wonderful objects. It was a feast in here this morning. Thank you.

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    1. This makes me smile in all kinds of ways. I think one of the best things blogging offers is the opportunity of getting to know those things we rarely share about one another. And when those things are feast, well... yum!

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  2. My husband is from the Dominican Republic. When his mom was still living, she also celebrated. I went along, but I don't understand Spanish although I still got the gist of what was going on. Love all of your gifts.
    Mary

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    1. What did if feel like? The energy?

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  3. Wonderful treasures to dream and be inspired by! Oh my! It's the wonderful friendships of virtual or live friends reminds me of the many who have passed, but there are hints of missed friends in each new one, that is magic! xoDebi

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  4. I love the whole concept of El Dia de Los Muertos. There's a question I want to ask you... since the festival is part of your cultural history. I stumbled across an article recently, which led me to a blog, that is dedicated to shaming anyone who posts pictures of themselves online wearing the sugar skull makeup. This blog has a hard-line policy that the festival is a religious one and that wearing the makeup, as say a Halloween costume or art, is disrespectful. I was surprised because Day of the Dead all seems so heartwarming and celebratory to me, and I was thinking that it was wonderful the way it seems to be spreading into other cultures. It is even starting to take hold here in Australia. So... what is your opinion, Lady M? I understand what the blogger is saying (although, I think the shaming is mean), but do you think there is general offence, amongst people with a cultural heritage of El Dia de Los Muertos, at the sugar skull makeup being worn lightheartedly or for aesthetics? And then there's the question of Day of the Dead themed artwork...

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    1. PS. And I forgot to say what beautiful gifts you have received! ❤

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    2. Dear Emma,

      I think that people often forget why certain traditions began; the things they were trying to accomplish. Also, sometimes, as cultural groups attached to our old ways, we forget that change is what keeps us alive.

      I will tell you what I told some people who asked me why I was so mad at them after my little brother’s funeral. I was angry because some of them started talking about him as if he had lived like an introverted prude. My baby brother was loud, happy, danced until his shoes caught fire; his laughter would rip the cackles out your gut… you couldn’t help but forgive all his mischiefs, not after he set his smile on you. And my goodness, there was a lot to forgive and often. But I loved him like he was—a walking, talking, breathing party. I don’t think he would have wanted to be remembered as someone who he was not. So I was more than upset when that almost happened.

      The same seems to be happening with El Dia de los Muertos (and Halloween, too). In the case of El Dia de los Muertos, we get together to celebrate the life of our dead, to tell our children stories about ancestors they never met, to remind ourselves that although they are gone we are alive, and we should enjoy the gift of living in their names. It is the reason for the drinking and the eating and the singing… and sometimes, the crying. Also, and this is not common to every tradition, we make all the noise so that bad spirits will stay away; we cover our faces, so that those who aren’t kin won’t recognize us or follow us home.

      I understand why certain orthodox practitioners get upset when they feel that “an outsider” is stealing their traditions or making fun of it. I also think that they are missing the point of the thing. When some people wear sugar skull make up, they might not know what it is about… but those of us who do get the perfect opportunity to share the goodness, the respect and the richness of our traditions. We can share ourselves and welcome others into our circles. They don’t have to be as serious as we are about the whole thing, but at least they get to see that we are here; at least they have the chance to learn that we don’t put bones on our altars because we are creepy, but because we have made friends with Lady Death.

      There will always be purist out there. And that’s a bit of shame… Just imagine how wonderful the world would be, if we could take our similarities and differences (the good, the bad and the freaky) and used them to dance around this world while holding hands with each other.

      Then again, remember that I’m an Eclectic Witch through and through. I believe love, culture and learning should be shared freely… so those who got offended due to what’s going on with El Dia de los Muertos (and its spreading across cultures) might not really care about what I say.

      Um... as you can see, I have a lot say about this. ♥

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    3. I just had to weigh in on the "purist issue" here too.

      I fight against people ranging from "I don't really understand what Halloween is..?" to "I really don't like this Halloween shit, it's not a Swedish tradition!" daily at the store during October. Some are actually offended and angry at me for trying to introduce a "different holiday" into our "own"...Read up on your religious history, woman!

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  5. Each time I visit your blog, I learn what a dear, sweet person you are. I felt my heart flutter as I read the words relating to your loved ones. You have such a caring heart and magnificent mind.

    My grandmother and I used to tend my grandfather's grave, but ours was a sombre experience. The graveyard, and all the other people tending the graves of their loved ones, were so silent and still that we felt we should only speak in a whisper, or quite often, not at all. My grandmother shares the grave with my grandfather now. I like to think they're happy, and dancing together again.

    I'm glad your All Hallows Read book arrived in time for Halloween.

    You have so many wonderful gifts... evidence of the warmth people feel towards you.

    Have a wonderful weekend, lovely Magaly! ♥

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    1. I had friend (my first grownup friend, she was 90) who was really serious. She would talk to me about Dominican politics and (I was 9) and she rarely smile. I would eat coconut and sweet potato ice cream while I listened... I believe she was the one who made me start thinking big thoughts... Anyway, I think that if go to visit her grave I would be quite, might even read the paper aloud... She would have liked that.

      My policy is: Treat the dead like I did when they were alive, if they have a problem with it... they would probably pull my toes to let me know.

      Thanks sooo much for my gifts!

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  6. Thank you! ♥ I really wanted to know your viewpoint on the subject and this post gave me the perfect opportunity to ask. :) (By the way, a number of commenters on this blog identified themselves as "Latino" and vehemently disagreed with the blog author's attitude.) The striking imagery of El Dia de los Muertos may be the superficial thing that draws people in from outside the cultural tradition, but it also provokes curiosity about the deeper meaning behind the aesthetics. That seems to be a good thing to me. :)

    You honour your brother beautifully, Magaly! Every time you write about him, I get such a strong sense of him... and inexplicable feelings of cheekiness washing over me! ;)

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    1. Now my baby brother he is probably trying to whisper sweet nothings in your cyber-ear through my words. He was one of a kind, that kid. He could get in so much trouble--drove me insane--but he was also loving and loyal and fun. He knew how to love...

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  7. I didn't know about this custom, but last night I honored and remembered my uncle who passed away this week. I set aside a half hour to light candles for Shabbat, and at first I was struggling with participating in a ceremony whose purpose I don't believe in anymore. But then I meditated and realized that although I don't believe that my lighting candles will elevate his soul in heaven, because I don't think there is a soul or heaven as such, I can still see this as honoring him. I believe that when we die, our energy disperses into the world and can touch the rest of the world that comes after us. And so as I sat and watched the candles burning, I gathered his energy - his huge heart, his ever-present smile and contagious laugh, his delight in playing tricks on everyone, his sincere desire for everyone to be happy and safe and have the best of everything. By doing something he would have appreciated, I remain connected to him.

    I am so glad I can barely express it, that I was included in your ceremony this year, that I was part of those you talked about with your loved ones in the Summerlands.

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    1. Our believes are so very similar, Esther. It's the reason why I say that I am spiritual but not religious. I believe that once we die our essence goes back to the universe from where it come; it joins everything else. Those memories of your uncle will always keep him alive; you will tell those who didn't met him about the kind of tricks he used to play on others, about his big heart, about what use to get on his nerves... about who he was.

      I will never forget my grandmother's cackle--seriously, she laughed like thunder just heard a joke. I tell my husband stories about her, I tell the Little Princess stories about when my little brother used to get in trouble while he was little, about what he liked to eat... and you know what makes me super happy? That sometimes the Little Princess will say things like, "Pabelo liked hot sauce with his chicken." And she never saw him eat chicken, but she remembers the stories... and that's what it's all about.

      They get to live forever in the Heaven, paradise, Summerlands... that we build for them in our hearts and in our lives. ♥

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    2. Pretend there aren't any typos... *cough*

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  8. Happy Day of the Dead Magaly. A warm, hearty, and bounteous winter season to you!

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  9. I have always loved the idea of Dia de los Muertos, celebrating and remembering your lost ones with love and cheer always seemed like a good idea to me. and I love that you have your presents on an altar and talk to them about them!

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    1. If we don't remember them, who will, right? And I think sharing the new with them keeps the memories fresh in my heart. ;-)

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  10. I like your new short hair! It looks very . . . dare I say it? . . . BEWITCHING!

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    1. I was TOTALLY going for bewitching! ;-D

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  11. Love your altar. Mine has my father's deputy sheriff badge from a small Texas county and a jalapeno, his favorite food. (A love of which he passed to me.) I, too, am sad sometimes that he passed, but mostly I am happy at the love of the stories he passed on to me. But, I love that you present your presents. It is so thoughtful. I appreciate the way that Dia de lo Muertos celebrates with joy compared to the dour ways that most cultures approach death. Thank you for sharing.

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    1. Those lovely special touches--extra powerful bits that belonged (or were given) by great souls--are what make our altars powerful, methinks. For when you stand in front of them, to pray or to ponder, you have a bunch of cues to remind you that even when times get tough, you are never alone. And that rockeths very mucho. ♥

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  12. Wonderful collections, Magaly - of beautiful things and beautiful memories. May your collections continue to grow <3

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  13. I love the whole idea of Dia de los Muertos but I don't participate but not because it isn't in my heritage. I just don't celebrate any holiday. well, maybe thanksgiving when we can get the kids to come out here for the day. I just don't do ritual. and, I didn't have that great a relationship with my natal family which was so small I didn't even need ten fingers to count them on. though I do have a small amount of each of my parent's ashes and I don't find cemeteries to be sad places.

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    1. It all comes down to choice. What we choose should make us happy. And other people should look a bit deeper, I think, before saying that so and so don't deserve to make that choice because they weren't born to the right family.

      We are on the same spot when it comes to graveyards...

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  14. This is exactly the point I've been trying to make to my kids about Halloween. Their dad is Chicano, his family is all from Mexico, and there is a rich tradition of this time of year being about the dead, but happy, and hopeful. I keep telling them that if we see ghosts, they will be people we have loved, and who love us.

    I wish we had more Dia de los muertos type celebrations here. I adore them.

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    1. Maybe your telling of the stories of his and your ancestors will get the children motivated. Maybe one day they will understand them in their own way...

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  15. What a wonderful tribute to the time and to friendship. I know dear Oma. I'm glad you do too.

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    1. Oma Linda is a large as the world... I'm certain she's taking over slowly, heart by heart. ;-D

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  16. Your altar is just so stunning! I am in loooove with those wands. I think I will start celebrating El Dia de Los Muertos because it is so very in line with my beliefs on Samhain and this time of the year. It is such a beautiful cultural celebration and being from the far North of Canada I don't know anyone who celebrates it!

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    1. Sharon's wands are lovely. I love the way they feel in my hands. I've been using them to focus during meditation. ;-)

      When you start celebrating El Dia de los Muertos, I would love to know how you go about it!

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  17. I know this wonderful Holiday isn't as big as it should be. But I'm glad to see it's getting more notice. I didn't even know about it before a few years ago, so that's progress. How do I celebrate those who have passed? For myself? Stories. Not fiction, though I like to think bits of people I know get turned into my stories. No, I mean stories about those who have gone on. When my brother died, I was pleased to see how everyone had a story about HIM. About something he did or said that affected their life. Each one was theirs. And it only made sense to them, and their life. Sometimes the best stories aren't made up. And sometimes they tell themselves.

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    1. All stories are true in their own way, methinks.

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  18. I love Oma Linda's gift for you!
    Usually I do a small Halloween decorating and light a white candle for those (human and pet) who have gone before. I also recount their names as I light the candle. The list gets longer every year.

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    1. Oma is quite the crafty loving genius.

      I love the idea of a list... I think I will added to next year's celebration, if you don't mind. ;-)

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  19. I am so glad you liked the frame, but if something has a purpose, don't be afraid to use it!

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    1. I have the picture that's supposed to go in it. Maybe I will insert it next month. Not yet though... *hehehe*

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  20. This is such a beautiful post and you look so adorable ;o) I love all the special treats you got ;o)
    I think I told you this before, but mom and I go visit the cemetery, where we visit her best friend and my grandpa ;o) We say a blessing and leave apples for them ;o) Mom thought this was strange, but now she looks forward to it every year ;o)
    Love you my friend ;o)

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    1. I am happy that your mom can keep this kind of relationship/connection with her friend. I think one of the most difficult things to deal, with when it comes to death, is the fact that people are no longer there. But when we bring them in... well, it doesn't hurt so much anymore. ♥

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