Losing my Dad not long ago, and about 10-15 years too early was an eye opening experience on so many levels, but one of the things that I realised over everything (sweeping generalisation incoming) is that white people don't really know how to deal with death. His passing was a shock and very sudden, so my sister and I were determined to make his memorial a real celebration of his life - and not just say that, really make it that. And I feel like we did.
SEARCHING FOR SOMETHING MORE
After the dust settled I was troubled by the enormous hole in my world and how quickly life around us resumed to normal. It felt disrespectful almost, and that such a great selfless man who contributed so much could be forgotten so quickly. I started reading about other cultures and how they handle death for something more akin to what I wanted, which is when I discovered Dia de los Muertos.
Sure I'd heard of it before but I hadn't read much about it nor learned the detail. By the end I'd not only adopted this as my ongoing connection to my Dad, but also felt compelled to share this with as many people as I can, for the proposition of celebrating our departed on a day not connected with day they died was really great. This formed the inspiration for our Dia de los Muertos candle, and specifically the personalisation option that you get when you buy it. I didn't want to force this on people, hence the inclusion of the Pomba Gira sticker in every box, allowing everyone to have the option really great 'default' finish as we designed it.
SO WHAT IS DIA DE LOS MUERTOS?
It's an annual event thats starts at midnight on October 31st and draws to a close at mightnight on November 2nd. During this time it's believed that the wall between the spirit world and the living disolves, and that the spirits of the departed can come over and be with the living for that fleeting period.
Day of the Dead is a holiday to remember loved ones by sharing a meal with them as one would when they were alive.
Families create alters in their homes, which they adorn with marigold flowers, photos of their departed, along with their favorite foods and drinks. Other items can be put on their too, all of it being the offrendas (offerings) to honour them and encourage their souls to visit and join in the celebrations. The families play games together, reminisce and tell funny stories of the departed and dance to the village band playing in their town.
THE FESTIVAL PARADE
On the second day, people get dressed up, paint their faces and come together for the street parades. Most women center their Day of the Dead outfits around La Calavera Catrina, traditional Mexican dresses, big feathered hats, flower crowns, sugar skull face paint with lots and lots of color! Most men dress like El Catrin, which is a Dandy-like gentleman, wearing a tuxedo or a suit.
It's also common for the families to visit the cemetaries, and after cleaning the grave, they decorate them with marigolds, and all the gifts from the home alter.
THE FESTIVAL'S HISTORY
Dia de los Muertos goes back approximately 3,000 years, with academics believing that it started with the Aztec’s month-long summer festival worshipping Mictēcacihuātl, goddess of the underworld. Ancient civilizations did not fear death and thought that sorrow was disrespectful to the dead, they instead saw death as part of the life cycle. It's such a significant event that UNESCO have added it to the list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
SO HOW CAN I CELEBRATE IT IN AUSTRALIA?
Good question. We don't have the parades or the gravity of our local culture all being on board like Mexico does, but that doesn't mean we can let a bit of it in. Building an alter in our home is a little too detatched from our culture, but having a day where you remember someone isn't. Our candle isn't just designed to be used when the festival is on, rather an all year round moment on demand with your loved one - it can however be a centrepiece for such an event, like holding a dinner party where you invite mutual friends and serve the favorite meal and drink of your departed during the Day of the Dead Festival would fit in... Along with some funny stories about them and remembering the good times, you taking the lead with this will be followed by other guests following suit.