Happy Day of the Dead

As a kid growing up in Mexico, I never gave much thought to the annual celebration of El Día de los Muertos. I loved the candy skulls, the street vendors’ skeleton marionettes, and the displays in the bakers’ windows: Tenemos pan de muerto (“we have bread for the dead”).

A colleague’s note this morning brought all of those memories back.

Although she is neither Mexican nor Catholic (same here!), she and her husband decided to celebrate anyway by raising a small shrine to her departed grandparents. I found it fascinating to rediscover the Day of the Dead through her eyes.

In the States, most people avoid discussing death. We seem to view it as something unnatural that must be hidden away and sanitized. Bring up death—even from a “what happens after” standpoint—and you’ll quickly be labeled as morbid or morose.

How unfortunate.

I think it’s healthy for a culture to acknowledge death. It sharpens our appreciation for life. It also strengthens our connection to our past, to those who have gone before us. It helps us accept our inevitable demise as part of a natural process, instead of as a horrible fate to be feared and avoided at all costs.

I find myself thinking about the extreme measures we go to in the States to preserve our youth and prolong our lives. And I can’t help but wonder if we’d be better off—as a culture and as individuals—if we, too, celebrated a Day of the Dead.

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