How does one authentically celebrate Dia de Los Muertos these days?
It’s such a strange time we’re in – this tradition has become so incredibly widespread and commercial. It’s become a very natural event in the season. At least here in my town. Every store has a muertos display of cute items, everyone is excited to shop at the artist mercados, and my social feeds are full of super cool ideas.
Before the pandemic, for me, losing loved ones was very spread out. Aside from my dad who died in 2009, I hadn’t really dealt with unexpected and heavy first-person loss. My dad and my grandparents were always the focus of my ofrendas. They each lived long, fulfilling lives.
Celebrating Dia de Los Muertos became a tentpole event situation – art, crafts, festivals, music, even all things COCO.
Life has changed since those days.
It seems we are each grieving someone (or several someones) special who has passed away in the past two years. For me it was two friends (Monique and Luisa), my next door neighbor, two uncles, an aunt, and my mom.
It felt so overwhelming to handle. Part shock, part anger, part confusion, and so much love. However, I set up an ofrenda last year for my two friends who passed away in 2021.
Holding space for emotions.
After spreading education all these years about Day of the Dead, you’d think setting up an elaborate ofrenda would come easy.
Truthfully, I felt empty and kinda lost.
My heart was heavy and sad. And then I felt selfish for crying when I should have been celebrating their lives at this time. All I could do was take some alone time and let my feelings settle.
In the past I would have forced myself to push through, but that is soo not healthy!
A mental and spiritual refresh.
After exhaling all those emotions, I finally channeled my energy to Mo and Luisa and the fun, beautiful, heartfelt times we shared. Celebrating life. Their lives. Our lives.
And vowing to spend more time living in the moment.
Sometimes it’s not just about grieving people – but also our own identities. When they die, so does that relationship from our daily lives. Lots of recalibrating, rerouteing, resetting our hearts for the new normal.
Changes in life situations, friendships, career – all of these deserve space for mourning and also gratitude for the lessons we learned.
2022 – Feeling a little more healed
This year has been a good one, so far!
My heart is feeling stronger, I still have my mushy moments, but I definitely see the world and life from a much higher perspective. Things that used to bother me (other people’s perceptions! Working seven days a week! Overthinking everything!) don’t anymore.
Most of all, now I spend much more time with close my husband and kids!
The key is nourishing our mental health and our hearts every day. It really does add up to feeling better and stronger.
Okay, back to the question: How to authentically celebrate Day of the Dead
After all this, I had to ask myself: How can I embrace and celebrate this tradition, and still keep it personal and meaningful?
Here are some ideas I’m doing this year, I hope they help if you are feeling some kind of way like I was last year!
Set up an ofrenda.
This is traditional, yes. But you can honor your loved ones any way you want. Put up their picture, light and candle and talk to them. Set out items they loved. You can keep it simple if you want. And heck, it doesn’t even have to be a person. Maybe it is a marriage, a house, a career you are celebrating the cycle of life for.
Write a letter to someone you lost.
Tell them about all the things that have happened, how you are feeling and situations you experienced where you thought of them. Maybe a gratitude letter to say thank you for the gift of the memories they left behind.
Make a small donation or purchase in their honor.
Perhaps it’s a GoFundMe they would have contributed to, or supporting a local artist. Or even buying their favorite drink and gifting it to a stranger!
Spend a day doing all the things they would have loved.
Take a dance lesson. Create a painting of a theme you wouldn’t normally do. Visit a museum or another event. Make a playlist in their honor. Cook a meal for them and eat it.
Spend a day doing things they would want you to do for yourself.
You know when you have a friend or family member who is always giving you ideas or pep talks? Maybe take some of those things and act on them! Buy something special for yourself, get in some exercise, perform a random act of kindness, read a book, etc.
More traditional ways to authentically celebrate Day of the Dead:
Visit a local fiesta or celebration.
Check our local community center, library, arts center to see if they have a community ofrenda. Add a picture of your loved one there.
Watch videos of Muertos events in places like Mexico City!