The Day of the Dead—A Magical Experience that Transcends Reality

Imagine having dinner at midnight by a tomb surrounded by spirits of loved ones who have passed away? This may sound frightening but, believe it or not, some people have a strong respect for those who are no longer with them. As a child, my grandma used to tell me: “Don’t be afraid of the dead, be afraid of those who are living.” After my father passed away I taught that only his body was gone but his spirit was still with us. Years passed by and I learned to appreciate the mystery of those things that we cannot see but feel. When I understood that there is a supernatural aspect to life and death, I was able to feel my father’s spirit.

In Mexico we celebrate “El Día de los Muertos” or “The Day of the Dead” every November 2, and it is believed that the deceased return for that one day to visit with their loved ones. This celebration is part of the Mexican culture and almost everyone honors the departed relatives. I honor my dad on this special day by constructing him an altar, a sacred place where I place personal gifts for him and light candles, or by going to his tomb to rejoice that his spirit remains alive within me.

But how did this tradition begin? Spirituality can be defined as something mysterious; it is intangible and exists as a sacred element in the hearts of the people who embrace it. I truly believe that the spirituality in Latin America has its roots in the Native American cultures. I believe this because I am partly indigenous myself. My grandmother taught me the beauty of nature and the importance of respecting it. I learned from her how to nourish my soul with those things that we cannot see or touch. By searching the roots of my past I found out that, before the arrival of the Spaniards, the Native American cultures were full of rich traditions where spirituality was paramount. Even though the Europeans suppressed many of the Indian traditions, some Indian cultures continued to practice their traditions in the remote areas where they took refuge. My hometown is a perfect example of this because many people there still speak my ancestors’ language, Tarasco, as well as perform the same ancient rituals they practiced centuries ago. One unique trait of my culture was that death was considered a sacred, a pathway to a better life. The Indian tribes embraced death and did not fear its presence to the point that, even today, death is given its own holiday—it is celebrated. Even though this holiday has been alive for many generations, it seems to be as magical as the first day it happened.

Día de los Muertos represents the very core of my ancestors’ spirituality. It is a respect for natural forces, for the spirits that cannot be seen or are no longer with us, but can somehow be perceived on that special occasion. When one allows oneself to believe in the things that cannot be seen, when one allows oneself to feel the supernatural forces, when one embraces the spirit and the presence of death then, and only then, will the individual experience the manifestation of death. With this in mind, having dinner at midnight surrounded by spirits is not as creepy as it sounds. It is actually a magical experience that transcends reality.

-Cecilia Iñiguez