As long as I’ve lived in northwest Arkansas, I’ve wanted to go to a big Day of the Dead celebration, since this region is home to tens of thousands of Mexican and other Latino immigrants and their families. This year I finally got there.
Día de los Muertos is one of my favorite holidays, a centuries-old celebration of loved ones who have died and yet are still with us in other ways. In its tradition, death isn’t scary and cold but warm and colorful, a natural part of life bedazzled in marigolds and sugar skulls. That isn’t to say death is easy – this year’s celebration in Uvalde, Texas, capped several months of indescribable anguish. This holiday helps its celebrators face the reality of death and grief, find comfort in memory and know that the past isn’t truly gone.
You’ll usually hear Day of the Dead described as a fusion of Indigenous and Catholic traditions; I’ve just learned that many historians in fact have found only European roots for these traditions. But traditions they remain, meaningful and bright, and I’m glad I could take part in them. I’ll always also appreciate holidays like Day of the Dead and Halloween – which really is a fusion of (Celtic) indigenous and Christian customs – that find symbolic significance in the natural rhythms of the world. The nights grow long, life slumbers, and we dance with the light and the dark.
Thanks for looking.