What is the Day of the Dead all about?

Debbie Vallandingham, LMSW-ACSW, Bereavement Manager

October 28, 2020

The Day of the Dead actually takes place over several days and runs from October 31st to November 2nd. In contrast to the modern notion of Halloween, a holiday that is full of horror and mischief, the Day of the Dead is about color and love for our deceased family members. In cities in Mexico, people wear makeup and costumes, dance and sing, and celebrate their lost loved ones. Tradition holds that the gates of the af­terlife are opened and loved ones return to their families to join in on the celebration. Indeed, the purpose of the holiday is to celebrate life and to teach people to not fear death but rather to enjoy and take advantage of every moment.

The Lessons of the Day of the Dead

We have incorporated many parts of the Day of the Dead into our version of Halloween.

• Death is a part of life. The holiday of the Day of the Dead cele­brates death as a part of life, not the end of life. It recognizes that a loved one is still present, even after death.

• A relationship doesn’t end when someone dies. Celebrating this holiday allows a family to stay engaged with their loved one. Wheth­er you believe that you are communicating with them or if you are only keeping them alive through memories, you are maintaining a healthy relationship with your loved ones.

• Grief doesn’t follow a timeline. The Day of the Dead is a holiday that doesn’t push anyone to clo­sure. Knowing that your loved one is with you allows you the chance to continue a dialogue or to say what you left unsaid in your own time.

• Memorials can be fun. Finally, the Day of the Dead allows those cele­brating to be festive in their honoring of the dead. This is a stark contrast to the typical somber event that takes place during most funerals. The Day of the Dead is about color, song, dance, eating and enjoying the company of those we have lost.

As this year’s Day of the Dead arrives, it may be worth watching the movies Coco or The Book of Life while enjoying a chocolate sugar skull or other goodies. We can light a candle, play music and have colorful flowers to honor those who have gone before us. We can use the lessons we have learned from the Day of the Dead to keep our relationships with those we have lost healthy ones.

And finally, the monarch butterfly plays a role in The Day of the Dead. As the monarch migrates through Mexico during the time of the holiday, it is believed that the monarch also helps the dead find their way to their family.

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