Way back, several thousand years ago, there was a civilization in Mexico we know mostly as Aztecs and Toltecs. To their way of thinking, death was just another phase on the continuum of life and it was disrespectful to mourn the dead. The dead were still part of the community, their spirits kept alive in the memories of their families and it was on Dia de los Muertos that they temporarily returned to earth.
The tradition survived all these years and has morphed into a 3-day festival in Mexico. I saw pictures of the colorful altars in the cemeteries, adorned with marigolds and family pictures. The parades and celebrations seemed like mardi gras to me, only with a theme of skulls and skeletons.
It wasn’t until I watched the Disney movie “Coco” that I really sat up and listened.
Brief synopsis of the movie Coco, blatantly copied from IMDB: Aspiring musician Miguel, confronted with his family’s ancestral ban on music, enters the Land of the Dead to find his great-great-grandfather, a legendary singer.
According to the movie, you can’t cross back over to earth—you can never again see your loved ones–if you are forgotten. When you are completely forgotten you finally dissolve, disappear, die. Miguel’s great-great-grandmother tore his great-great-grandfather’s face out of the picture, so he was nearly forgotten, and fading quickly. Miguel’s trip to the Land of the Dead is filled with music and lush with colors. There is a scary part and the ending made me cry, but the music made it happy-cry. (by the way, Coco is his great-grandmother) (watch the movie)
So, maybe it’s all true. Maybe there is a time when the veil between the living and the dead thins out and our ancestors are able to visit with us.
I know I’m full of dead people right now, thanks to my genealogy project. I am lucky enough to remember 2 great-grandmothers who lived until I was 18. What do you really know about your great-grandmother, though? I listened to the stories and tried to ask questions when I realized there soon would be no one to ask. Family histories are notoriously unreliable, if they exist at all, and I’m finding more questions than I am answers. I stare at the fading pictures of their young faces and wonder. The census, records of birth, death, marriage, baptism are an outline, but I want to color it in with a flesh and blood human that Lived a Life worth remembering.
The catholic church co-opted the Days of the Dead, turning them into All Saints Day, when you pray for the honest-to-god-saints-in-heaven (like they need it) and All Souls Day, when you pay-to-pray for the rest of the church people who are in purgatory. The rest of the dead are in hell. What a bunch of killjoys…
I much prefer to celebrate our Ancestors, showing respect for their lives, and welcoming them with Peace, Love, Food, and lots of Flowers when the veil thins. I like to think of them living in the colorful Land of the Dead, biding time until I join them in their dancing and singing. (of course, I believe in Ancient Aliens, too, so what do I know?)
I know this much: Life is short and Death is long.
So get out there and Be Alive while you still can…and don’t forget to remember the Grateful Dead…