Día de Muertos, Day of the Dead, is a two-day celebration and remembrance of family and friends who have passed on to their ancestors. Convening in cemeteries and homes, altars are made with pictures, favorite foods and libations, candles, copal, and other incense, and flowers, specifically bright yellow cempasúchil, or flowers of the dead—marigolds in English.
A celebration and a convening, November 1st is dedicated to children, while the 2nd is for adults. Contrary to the puritanical approach to death, which is to ignore death or monetize it through a market purchasing insurance policies, Día de Muertos reminds us that those who have passed are always with us. Death is not some long, faraway possibility, but the other side of life is always present.
With origins in indigenous communities in Central Mexico, how did the ceremonies honoring the dead come to be on November 1st and 2nd? The answer. The Catholic Church: All Saints Day and All Souls Day. Much ink has been lettered about the use of Catholicism for control and domination, particularly the assimilation of indigenous spiritual practices. Check out the research of Mary J. Andrade, who has written extensively about Día de Muertos.
I want to take this opportunity of Día de Muertos to introduce the book Where do they go? by Julia Alvarez and illustrated by Sabra Field. An accessible and tender book about death, written for children and to perhaps guide a conversation with adults, the book asks, "When somebody dies, where do they go? / Do they go where the wind goes when it blows? … Do they wink back at me when I wish on a star? Do they whisper, 'You're perfect, just as you are'? …" You can listen to the book on MsKingsHomeroom Youtube Channel.
"Born in New York City, Julia Alvarez moved to the Dominican Republic with her Dominican American parents when she was an infant. In 1960, though, the political situation forced the family to return to New York. Alvarez has explained that the experience of being forced to refine her English upon returning to the United States made her very aware of language—good training for a writer. In 2013, she received the National Medal of Arts from President Obama. Alvarez's poetry often explores her identity as a Dominican American. Alvarez has also written many novels, including Afterlife (2020), Saving the World (2007), A Cafecito Story (2002), and In the Time of Butterflies (1994), which was set during the Trujillo dictatorship in the Dominican Republic and adapted into a motion picture released in 2001." Here is a link to the trailer for the film.