Michael Bywater, in the prologue to his book Lost Worlds, said that "damned or not, memory is stronger than oblivion." Día de los Muertos--really the two whole days it spans--seems one of memory's best seasons. Memorial days in the most intimate vein, invoking the essence--literally or figuratively--of those we love and can no longer touch, it's a chance to remember them and the small things they loved.
A visit to the cemetery isn't always a possibility, where hours can be spent making grave sites lovely with flowers, candles, a good sweeping and the family's shared company. And it's the altars at home, the ofrendas or offerings, that pay the closest tribute to those gone. The purpose and symbolism of elements in the ofrenda is well-described here, and I highly suggest taking the time to have a look.*
Patricio and I began last week to assemble our own little altar, collecting our calaveras--skulls made of sugar, chocolate or amaranth grain--representing the relatives we most miss: His grandmother, mother of twelve and strong as a tower steel. His uncle Lupe, who called him mi vida, and who left a large hole in his heart. Mimi and Papa, those grandparents of mine whose lives were a gift to the world. And Denny, mom's brother, who I know would have been an exceptional uncle Lupe of our own.
We left them a small dish with water and salt. Mona's peach pie and chocolate. Sweet pan de muerto, and amaranth just in case. As the clouds of copal fill the house with heavy scent, Patricio is bubbling up cola de res, a sort of oxtail soup stewed in adobo deliciously thick . And if the need arises, there's a shot of strong mezcal to keep a chilly spirit warm. The figure of a sheep, fanciful and sugar-sweet, stands watch over the spread, accompanied by a quiet, cowled monk and a swanked-out Catrina--company for memories, good souls, and even ourselves.
Memory may eventually be damned, but never these well-loved souls. Remembering them and their place in our worlds makes the root sense of 'holiday' real. These are holy days, for sure. This remembrance is sacred. A happy Dia de Muertos to you all.
*Out and about in the Centro tomorrow, I won't be blogging for the day. If you're interested in digging a little deeper, consider it time to take a look at all the links.