How do we deal with death? Should we fear it? Avoid discussing it? These seem like foolish ideas, considering how inevitable death is: from the moment we’re born, from those first gulps of oxygen that open the door to life, we also begin dying. No matter what, death takes us in the end. So what if we looked at it a bit less… grimly?
I’ve always had an immense admiration for Mexico’s Día de Muertos, the Day of the Dead (as readers of Pale Highway probably figured out). In the last few years, Veronica and I have made a point to mark the occasion by remembering the loved ones we’ve lost. To truly understand a tradition, though, I think it’s important to go back to its roots. So back in late October, we took a trip down to Oaxaca, Mexico, to experience Día de Muertos firsthand.
Oaxaca is an amazing location, on its own, but everything lights up during Day of the Dead in a way that has to be seen to be believed. Altars commemorating lost family members are everywhere. Costumed parades cheer, dance, and play brass instruments across the neighborhoods, all night long. Grinning skeletons hang from balconies, windowsills, and doorways. Candles light up the cemeteries, and bands play through the evening, as everyone comes together to honor the ones they’ve lost, to grieve, to celebrate their lives, and to recognize death—not as something to fear, but as an integral part of what makes life meaningful.
This sort of realization—to love life, to smile through death, to dance with the skeletons instead of running from them—is something that anyone, in any culture, can learn from. Thank you, Oaxaca, for showing us what an amazing holiday this really is.