NOVEMBER: THE MONTH OF THE DEADI had arrived in Mexico City a day or two after the Festival had finished but it was still possible to catch something of the magic of the occasion. Hyper-stylised skull make-ups, brightly colored flowers, hanging skeletons – they were all there in abundance as part of the annual Dia de Muertos (Day of the Dead). Born from a blend of Aztec remembrance festivals and Spanish Catholicism, it’s the annual joyful Mexican tribute to family members who have passed away, celebrated with flowers, food and skulls usually made up of sugar in tribute to the sweetness of life. As festivals go, it’s up there with Christmas as a sort of recognizable religious touchstone. The colourful skull ornaments paraded during Dia de Muertos are about celebrating the lives of those who have passed away but also a reminder to those of us still here to celebrate the fact that we get to be here in this moment. Life, death and human experience are a personal way of knowing time and the skull in particular encapsulates this in a universally recognizable form. Film buffs may recall that the festival features in the opening scene of the James Bond film, Spectre, with 007 being pursued by a helicopter as he hops, skips and jumps the rooftops of the buildings overlooking the massive square in the centre of the city. If the skulls act as some sort of Memento Mori, then the flowers, also an integral part of the Day of the Dead, are thought to guide souls from their resting place back to their family homes. And surely no soul could resist the stunning colourful petals – especially the pink-colored ones which for Mexicans signify happiness.
It was certainly a strange way to begin a holiday, being almost forced to reflect on life and death in such an in-your-face way. All Saints’ Day, All Souls’ Day, All Hallows’ Eve, the Day of the Dead – our various celebrations at the beginning of November – remind us of an overriding truth that is at the core of so many of our religious and cultural traditions – namely, that not even death can separate us from the love of those we have known.Those who have loved us in life and whom we remember with affection especially in this month of November, are with us always. They’re near, dear, and not-so-departed! They remain an intimate and important part of our journey through life as we strive to become more loving people and to share that love with those who need it most. This time of year reminds us, too, that death isn’t about destruction or separation; it’s rather about a moment of transformation that takes us even deeper into life. As the liturgy for the dead puts it: life is changed, not taken away. In death, we trade our heartbeat for a deeper place in the heart of the God who is love, a heart that remains active and involved in our world despite appearances to the contrary. So even in the short, dark days of November we still have much to celebrate and be thankful for.