At Hudson River Housing Geoff, Lindsay, and I, share our office with a pleasant Indian woman named Vas. As Vas was leaving for the day this afternoon she took a glance at our many piles of printed Dia de los Muertos fliers and posters and said to me, “you know, this holiday is celebrated all over the world.” I gave her a funny look, because my understanding of Dia de los Muertos was that it is most commonly associated with Mexico since it originated there, however that it is also widely celebrated across Latin America. I had not considered the Day of the Dead to be a holiday that took place in very many other places in the world..
What Vas meant was that, while not called “The Day of the Dead”, very similar holidays that remember and honor the ancestors through the creation of altars or offerings to their spirits are celebrated all around the world. She mentioned Viet Nam, and China, a few places where she had traveled and heard about them herself. She quickly mentioned that she had been to a funeral in Viet Nam and learned that traditional offerings to the spirits were fruits...and beer! This came as a shock to her because in many...almost every other culture, this would be regarded as disrespectful.
I appreciated that she brought this up because I think that as we are leading up to our week long Dia de los Muertos celebration we have an opportunity to consider what this celebration means to different people all over the world, and what it might mean to us. Are we working to preserve these vibrant cultures that exist here in Poughkeepsie and in the United States? Are we incorporating the lessons from these cultures into our lives and adapting them in our own traditions? Are we celebrating the richness of diversity that makes us feel lucky to live or work in Middle Main? As your read about some of the traditions of the various holidays below, I invite you to think about what they might mean to you, and consider how you might take the opportunity to celebrate the Day of the Dead a little bit differently this year.
A traditional Buddhist and Daoist festival celebrated in Asian countries. In their calendar, this celebration is held on Ghost Month, or their seventh month, on the 15th day, or Ghost Day.
On Ghost Day it is believed that the deceased family members, both young and old, from both heaven and hell, visit their living family members. The family members hold rituals in the hopes to “transmute and absolve the suffering of the deceased.” These rituals include welcoming the spirits with lanterns, burning incense and paper, creating altars, and placing large plates of food at an empty chair during dinner.
A holiday that takes place in China in the early Spring. This holiday focuses on celebrating spirits of people who died during tragedies, or in situations that are considered “sensitive”, as well as deceased ancestors. The holiday is celebrated by visiting the graves of the deceased ancestors, sweep them, and present them with offerings such as tea, food, wine, and a willow branch, which is thought to ward off evil spirits. Special foods that are eaten vary in the different areas where the holiday is observed, such as green dumplings made of rice and barley grass on the mainland. This day is also marked with family outings, and song and dance.
Bon Festival. or Festival of Souls, is a Buddhist celebration of the dead that takes place in Japan and China. It is believed that on this day the spirits of the ancestors return to the home to visit the family so that the family may offer them comfort and see that they are at peace. Similar to the Ghost Festival, the families hang lanterns outside their homes and at their graves, and similar to Tomb Sweeping Day, they clean off the graves of their ancestors. There are also large gatherings where people come together to perform the holiday dance, known as the Bon Dance, to welcome the spirits of the dead.
Celebrated on November 1st by Catholic and many Protestant denominations, this celebration takes different forms in different areas where it is celebrated. A common thread between the areas is the celebration of souls who have successfully passed into heaven, and their spiritual connection to the living who have not yet attained heaven. Often times a feast, or a hallowmas, is held to mark the occasion.
Of course, it is important that we all understand the holiday that we will be celebrating here in Poughkeepsie! The Day of the Dead, traditionally celebrated on November 1st, was brought to Mexico by Spanish Conquistadors who blended in their traditions of All Saints Day, a holiday in Catholicism, with indigenous Aztec rituals. On this day the deceased ancestors are thought to be among the living to join them in a great celebration of life. Traditional crafts are made and placed on altars along with candles, flowers, candy, and food, to welcome the dead and awaken them from their slumber. Large parties with music, dancing, and costumes take place throughout the weeks surrounding this day.
Read more about these holidays by clicking on their titles and linking to the sources
(please excuse my use of wikipedia).
Let us know how you will celebrate Day of the Dead a little differently this year by commenting below or posting on the Middle Main Dia de los Muertos event page! Found here: https://www.facebook.com/events/286295331561099/
The full schedule for our Dia de los Muertos celebration can be found at: http://middlemain.com/page/day-of-the-dead