When I think of death, I recall Professor Dumbledore’s wise words, “death, is but the next great adventure.” As with anything in life, as well as the emotional roller coaster we tend to get ourselves in, we cope with death differently one person to the next. Surprisingly, due to my upbringing lacking any sort of ‘I love yous’, or hugs for that matter, my Mother set a standard on remaining neutral in severe situations; specifically, during someone’s passing. For the sole purpose of being that much needed pillar for those around us coping with a recent death. I’ve had a handful of relatives pass away in the years I’ve been alive, starting with my Great Grandfather around 2008, followed by a Great Uncle and my Great Grandmother, which I wrote on prior Instagram posts. Three years ago, my Uncle passed away, then an Auntie a few months ago and well, I’ve become well aware how death affects us, and I’ve been fully aware of my own mortality far more than I ever have been. Perhaps it’s because death is ever so closer to me with each passing.
As I can remember, Día de los Muertos, a national holiday observed on the second of November, has been a staple holiday my family has observed for as long as we’ve been around. I’m no expert, but from what I know, El Día de Muertos has its origins heavily rooted in Pre-Hispanic times. Where native peoples baked human shapes out of Amaranthus and covered them with juice of the prickly pear, to symbolize blood. Surprisingly however, not much is done on the actual holiday, as the city of Oaxaca shuts down and we essentially do nothing throughout the day, since it’s a day to spend with family at home. The majority of events and celebration of the holiday take place on the latter weeks of October with the main event, if you happen to live near the city of Oaxaca, taking place on the thirty first of October at the Mictlancihuatl cemetery in the town of Santa Cruz Xoxocotlán. Fifteen minutes south of Downtown Oaxaca, the Mictlancihuatl cemetery hosts a wake the night of October thirty first, to symbolize and welcome our passed loved ones from the netherworld. My aforementioned Great Uncle is buried here and during the night of the wake, his widow, my Great Aunt, brought with her plenty of food for us to enjoy while we enjoyed the melodies of local musicians. After while however, my cousins and I walked around, took some photos and even walked to the old cemetery, a few blocks down from where the new cemetery sits now.
The best part of this holiday, aside from the comparsas throughout the city and the free Mezcal, is of course the food, and the altar my Grandmother puts together in the spare room of her house two weeks prior, to the second of November. To my surprise, my Grandmother had the foresight to plant marigold flowers at the plot of land we own close to the town of Zaachila. However, she still had to purchase additional marigolds on account my Grandmother goes all out with her altar, requiring far more flowers than those she planted. The altar is additionally decorated with photos of our passed loved ones, together with an abundance of marigold flowers or as we call them, flor de muerto. Other adornments include pan de muerto, Mezcal, fruits, nuts and as the day gets closer, tamales de frijol, tamales de mole and other dishes our passed loved ones enjoyed when they were alive. About a week before the second of November, the grave site of both my Grandfather and Uncle, they share the same site, is decorated with the same adornments found on our altar. The cemetery where both my Grandfather and Uncle are buried, is located a few minutes away from Downtown Oaxaca, and like the Mictlancihuatl cemetery which hosts the wake on the thirty first of October, the San Juan cemetery hosts its wake during the day, on November first.