More People Should Celebrate Día de Los Muertos

Disclaimer: In this post I discuss “Día de Los Muertos,” a Mexican holiday. I want to clarify that although I think this is a beautiful holiday, I am not of Mexican descent, and I am far from an expert on the holiday. If I get any information about Día de Los Muertos incorrect, please feel free to correct me. I am discussing this holiday out of respect for Mexican culture, and I sincerely hope that my tone conveys this.

I recently moved from the Bay Area to Eastern Washington, and it’s been a bit of an adjustment. There’s only one boba shop, and if I want a good croissant then I have to drive an hour and a half to get to the first bakery that makes them. However, exploring the small(er) town I’m currently occupying and hunting for hidden gems has been somewhat wonderful. There’s a cute coffee shop I’m coming to love, a local co-op a short drive away where I can buy fancy sea salt, and even a nice used bookstore that’s been eating my money.

It was a lot of fun celebrating Halloween in this town, as many places put on events throughout the month. Even my department had a few small get-togethers that forced us to step away from our computers and spend some time admiring the changing leaves.

Unfortunately, this small(er) town doesn’t seem to have a Día de Los Muertos celebration. I’m not necessarily surprised by this. I checked the demographics, and the region I’m in is pretty white, with Caucasian people occupying about 92% of the population (Normally, I’d provide the source for this, but I figure there’s no need to give away exactly where I’m living). So even though I’m close to a university and that university has about a 13% population of Hispanic students, it is unlikely there will be a Día de Los Muertos celebration outside of the student multicultural center.

A lot of people are missing out.

Back in the Bay Area, it’s not difficult to find a celebration happening somewhere. For example, just googling “Day of the Dead” and “San Francisco” will take you to this website about a Festival of Alters celebration in Portero Del Sol Park. Events are happening throughout San Francisco, San Jose, and Oakland. If you’d like to get Pan de Muerto, a bakery in the Mission specializes in it. But if you don’t feel like driving to the city for Pan de Muerto, you can get pan dulce at almost any Mexican grocery store. Opportunities to join in are everywhere.

For those unfamiliar, Día de Los Muertos is a Mexican holiday part of Hallowtide, or the three days that include Halloween, All Saints Day, and All Souls Day. However, unlike the somewhat somber All Souls Day, Día de Los Muertos is a vibrant, joyful celebration of your loved ones. Some believe that the traditions of Día de Los Muertos come from Aztec beliefs, although now the holiday is celebrated throughout Mexico and is symbolic of modern Mexican identity.

Remembering a lost loved one can be complicated. I think about my mom randomly, like when I eat too much cookie dough or put on her old slippers. I think about her during less pleasant times, like whenever I have a headache and then spiral into a panic, thinking I’m hosting a glioblastoma. Then there are the even less pleasant times, moments that I can’t write off as a fit of hypochondria, because someone in my family or one of her old friends reaches out and makes a point of reminding me that she’s gone and that everything is terrible because she’s gone.

Grief is a gross, messy thing, like an emotional fatberg. I’ve had a hard time trying to remind people that I don’t love constant reminders of my loss, which I dealt with on a near-constant basis back in California. What I want is to be able to remember my mom and other people I’ve lost without feeling the need to rend my garments and wail like I’m a paid mourner.

Then again, when you’re Greek, saying you’d appreciate something to not be dramatic is a pipe dream.

I want to remember my mom and the other people I’ve lost in a positive light. I want to remember our good times and the funny things she said. I want people to know that she’s partly why I’m so fixated on birds and that I’m still in awe of her ability to level insults at people.

The beautiful thing about Día de Los Muertos is that it allows me to think about the people I love and remember what I love about them. I can make their favorite foods, listen to their favorite music, and feel warm and loved without the stomach-dropping misery that usually accompanies my grief. And what’s even more wonderful is that it allows me to remember with other people.

So many of us have lost someone we love. Loss is an inevitability of life. But that doesn’t mean that every memory of that person should be shrouded in misery. That’s the beauty of Día de Los Muertos. It’s a time to remember our loved ones in a way that’s so full of tenderness that it makes you want to laugh and celebrate. I like to think that it’s what our loved ones would want from us – to keep them in our hearts while still enjoying the wonders of life.

Día de Los Muertos isn’t just a celebration for those who’ve passed away but a reminder of how much we love them and the people still with us.

I’ve seen Día de los Muertos grow in popularity over the years. As a Bay Area native, I’ve had the privilege of being introduced to it at a relatively young age, and there have been small celebrations around me for nearly my entire life. I’ve also seen it play a greater role in pop culture. In addition to gorgeous films like “Coco” and “The Book of Life,” the holiday has also been featured in other movies, like the opening scene of “Spectre.” All of those movies happen to take place in Mexico, and although they’re well-made, entertaining movies, I really hope to see more movies centered around the holiday taking place in the United States. A Día de Los Muertos film in San Diego or Los Angeles would be a nice addition to the collection. And maybe if people see how the holiday can be celebrated in the US, they’ll be more open to celebrating it themselves.

I don’t expect my small(er) town to change overnight. As much as I would love to see the streets strewn with marigolds, conchas at the local co-op, and Chocolate Mayordomo in every cafe, that would be a bit much. But I hope that after reading this, your curiosity about the holiday has been piqued. I hope you explore the local celebrations if you just so happen to move to San Jose or El Paso. If you haven’t seen “Coco,” I hope you turn that movie on right now because it is really spectacular.

Or maybe today you can just think about someone you love who’s no longer with us. While it’s not my place to tell you how to spend today, I think you may find that engaging in this beautiful tradition may just be what you need to lift your spirits.


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