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Days Of The Dead Part 1

My Mexican friends are all excited because the most important festival of the year in Oaxaca is coming up.  And they are excited for me that Sonya and I will both be able to experience the Days Of The Dead in Oaxaca on October 31 and November 1 and 2.  This is a festival celebrated all over Mexico but nowhere is it celebrated better or more intensely than Oaxaca.

This festival has pre-Hispanic roots and is based on an Indian harvest festival that was originally celebrated in August.  When the Spaniards came, the priest switch the celebration to days already on the Christian calendar All Saints Day (Nov.1) and All Souls Day (Nov. 2).  By the way, these days were invented in the 8th Century to replace a Celtic pagan festival, Samhain.  Our Halloween comes from that ancient Celtic celebration.  Halloween from All Hallows (saints) Eve. 

Mexicans have a different view of death than do most people in the US.  As the poet Octavio Paz wrote:

"The Mexican is familiar with death, jokes about it, caresses it, sleeps with it and celebrates it.  It is one if his favorite playthings and most steadfast love."

I love this description of the meaning of Los Dias De Los Muestes by Judy King:

Some families prepare the altar of offerings at the family grave site, lighting a candle for each dead one, remembering the names, and placing flowers or coronas (wreaths) at the cemetery. Many stay to visit, eat, drink and pray while they keep a vigil during the night. All night, throughout the cemetery there is a grand family reunion of huge extended families, alive and dead, as one by one, through stories, memories and dreams, the dead return. On this night, those who wait realize the importance of living to be well remembered, working to be well respected and loving to be well missed.

Once the night has passed, and the spirits have returned to their world, the ones remaining known that for another year they have triumphed in the struggle of life and that the only way to celebrate death is to live with courage. They have faced death and have won, saying, "Look here, you old bald skull - you fleshless one - you didn't get me - I have survived to live again today."



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