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A Time for Remembrance

posted Oct 15, 2019, 1:45 PM by Kristin Snell

by Diana Pasquini, San Juan Ridge Family Resource Center

I once had a very dear friend who shared his memories of boyhood Halloweens with me. Born and raised in upstate New York, MC’s family unit included his Polish grandfather.  When preparing for Halloween, in lieu of creating a costume or laying in sugary treats, MC and his grandfather prepared for a visit from his dearly departed grandmother. MC and his grandfather laid the table with the family’s finest linens and china. Special delicacies were prepared. Candles were lit. Then, dressed in their very best, MC and his grandfather sat at the table waiting for his grandmother, the beloved guest of honor, to arrive. MC’s telling of the story was so beautiful. The image of a child far more interested in and enthralled with a ritual involving remembrance of a loved one than amassing and gorging on bags of chocolate bars and candy corn is one I will long remember, especially since MC, himself, succumbed to AIDS decades ago and is well worth fondly remembering. 

MC’s story of a celebration of remembrance is not singular. All over the world, cultures and individuals designate special times to commemorate, honor and celebrate departed loved ones. Such times recognize and reinforce a thread of continuity that unites past, present, even future generations. Honoring ancestors and deceased loved ones is the crux of Dia de Muertos. Familiar to Americans as the Day of the Dead, Dia de Muertos has its roots in ancient Mesoamerican cultures. The Aztec, Toltec, and other Nahua peoples considered mourning the dead to be disrespectful. Recognizing death to be a natural phase in life’s continuum, Dia de Muertos is celebrated with an explosion of color and life affirming joy. The dead are kept alive in memory and spirit.  

Dark and spooky, creepy and sometimes macabre, Halloween is not to be confused with Dia de Muertos. In fact, considered a living expression of culture, Dia de Muertos has been inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization). This celebration of the continuum of life is one of Mesoamerica’s great gifts to the world.

One needn’t create colorful altars or sweet sugar skulls in early November to celebrate one’s own ancestors. My family lights candles or tells stories, often accompanied by wistful smiles or peals of laughter, when remembering our loved ones. We feel free to indulge in such practices anytime throughout the year. On Halloween we greatly enjoy the fun of carving jack-o-lanterns, dressing in wild attire, and indulging in seasonal goodies. On a solely separate occasion we may share a special memorial dinner to honor and remember a beloved family member who no longer sits at our table. As MC and his grandfather did many years ago, we set out our very best china and crystal. Everyone contributes a sumptuous specialty dish. We savor and appreciate one another’s company and remark upon how much our loved one would enjoy the delicious food. While adults reminisce, young children gain a sense of continuity and place not only in the world of today, but in time. They learn to honor their ancestors and we hope their ancestors are pleased.