Saturday, November 05, 2011

Dead On

Some of you may recall that I went to a conference at a Christian centre called Ghost Ranch several years ago during November. It was the first of three trips to the wilds of New Mexico but on that one it was just after the celebration of the Day of the Dead. This is a Mexican festival, which makes sense in New Mexico because it was once a province of the neighbouring country just to the south. I was reminded of that trip when I heard about Day of the Dead events to be held in Toronto this weekend, corresponding with All Saints and All Souls Days earlier this week.

The decorations were rather jarring for me because there were skeletons and other lurid death images. Despite seeming macabre to my WASP eyes the Day of the Dead is actually an opportunity for people to celebrate loved ones who have died and families often go to cemeteries to have a picnic at the graves.

Our culture is sometimes described as death denying with an emphasis on youth and downplaying the aging process and death itself. We are reluctant to talk about the reality of death and we certainly don't have picnics in our cemeteries?

What is your reaction to Day of the Dead? Are we death denying? November isn't great picnicking weather in Canada, but what could we do to have a healthier view of death?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I don’t know how I feel about the Day of the Dead. I would have to experience it, in order to form my opinion. I can say that I once attended an outdoor prayer service for the dead in the cemetery where my mother rests. There we were in our lawn chairs, with our water bottles in our hands and the sun shinning gloriously down upon us, while the priest stood before us telling us that our loved ones were, at that very moment, enduring their time in purgatory. All was not bad news though, because some of them would make it through. We hoped Mom would, but the rules were much more complicated than my father had remembered them. My father and I didn’t know quite what to do. We avoided eye contact, because we have both been known to giggle at inappropriate times. We were smack dab in the centre of the group, and my father is kind of a large man, so shimming inconspicuously down the row of chairs with my father’s cane and our bulky plastic chairs in our hands wasn’t an option. We looked around at all the faces of those around us, and some looked as horror struck as us, but others just seemed to go with the flow. We considered sacrificing the chairs and crawling on our bellies through the maze of feet, but alas we stayed and learned a lot about purgatory. It’s much worse than we had previously imagined. A picnic would hardly seem macabre to either of us now.