05 November, 2010

A week of celebrations: Part III Dia de los Muertos

Our third celebration of the week was unlike the other two. Dia de los Muertos is a Mexican festival which has been adopted by the San Franciscans. It is a holiday for families and friends to celebrate and remember their dead loved ones. Surrounding it is a whole culture of art featuring quirky skeletons, model of skeletons dressed and carrying out everyday activities. In San Francisco there is a parade with many people, wearing beautiful costumes and with their faces painted as a skull. We didn't make it to the parade this year as it starts at 7 and it was a school night.

But we did go to Garfield Park which is the centre for the celebrations. Here people come to create beautiful shrines to their loved ones, shrines which were varied, deeply personal and incredibly moving. There were traditional Mexican shrines for whole generations of families with lovely old photographs, crucifixes and pictures of saints. There were Buddhist shrines with flowers and statues. There was a rock musician's shrine with a whole skeletal rock band and lots of music. There was one with two piles of handwritten letters amongst the flowers and candle holders. Another had poems and quotes surrounding a picture of a handsome sleeping young man. Another was a series of pictures of a vibrant young woman, a dancer or acrobat - she had lush hair except in the striking central portrait in black and white where all the hair had gone. There were stories told, and stories to be inferred. Some were undoubtedly tales of loss too soon, but not all. All were celebrations of people, presented to the world by those who knew them best.

I'm not religious. To me there is no afterlife, except that within the hearts and minds of those still living. And these people celebrated were still very much alive in their loved ones hearts. Perhaps next year, I will also set up a shrine for mine.

1 comment:

Lee said...

Thanks for posting this. I've heard of the festival and it was good to get a first hand account of it. I think it's a good tradition - too often we have people we know die, then we never speak of the again except in hushed voices. This way, we can celebrate our dead openly.