I will be in Central America on November 1 and 2 this year, and am looking forward to seeing some of the Dia de los Meurtos, or Day of the Dead, festivities while I’m there.
The Mayans and other indigenous groups in Mexico and parts of Central America believe that on October 31, at midnight, the gates to heaven open up and the souls of those who have passed away can return to earth for a 24-hour visit. The children who passed away come first, on November 1, and then, on November 2, the adults visit.
The preparations for the Dia de los Meurtos can be extensive. Beautiful altars with offerings of food, water, flowers and candles are set up in homes. Small toys are left for the children spirit visitors and alcohol and cigarettes for the adult spirit visitors. On November 2, families go to the cemetery to clean the gravestones. A feast is prepared at the cemetery, and the family eats with their deceased relatives, telling stories and remembrances of those that have passed. Often the feasting goes well into the night, and candles are lit.
For many that are not part of the Mexican culture, the Dia de los Meurtos can seem morbid. However, the custom is exactly the opposite. The Dia de los Meurtos is a celebration of life – the lives of those that are deceased and the lives of those that are still here on earth. The festivities help keep the family and family stories and traditions alive, and teach even the very youngest participants the value of enjoying every moment of life. Mexicans also believe that by honoring their dead relatives, their dead relatives will then protect, watch over, and share their wisdom with them.
Two years ago, on November 2, 2014, I was struck by a minivan while walking across the street. Everyone – from the paramedics to the police officers to the doctors – remarked on how incredibly lucky I was and how minor (comparatively speaking) my injuries were. While I agree with them, I also know in my heart that my guides and ancestors were there with me.
The driver struck me with enough force that I went on top of and rode on the hood of the minivan for a little bit before the driver stopped. As I fell from the vehicle, I felt invisible hands holding me, cushioning the fall. I was wearing my glasses that day, and I remember saying a quick prayer that my glasses wouldn’t break since I was scared that the broken glass could injure my eyes. As soon as the prayer was in my mind, my glasses fell off my face and landed in front of me, neatly folded, as if placed on the nightstand. And finally, the woman who witnessed the accident and stayed with me until I was loaded in the ambulance shared the same name as my grandmother. Were these all signs that my deceased ancestors were there for me, protecting me?
I believe that our guides and ancestors watch over and protect us always, I do think that maybe I had a little “extra” help on that day – the Dia de los Meurtos – so that I could better value and celebrate my own life going forward. For this, I am extremely grateful.