What’s El Día de los Muertos? It’s Not Scary, and It’s Not Halloween

Dia de los Muertos Dancer

A dancer performs at the Calpulli Mexican Dance Company’s annual “Dia de los Muertos” production. Photo by Kristin Slaby

Ran into this article by Kristina Puga on the CBS News Latino website. For those who aren’t familiar with Día de los Muertos or who think it’s Mexican Halloween, you might want to read it.

There seems to be a growing interest in Día de los Muertos, maybe because of the Disney movie Coco? Or my personal favorite animated feature on the subject, The Book of Life? The somewhat predictable American result? A retail bonanza: sugar skull cupcakes, framed prints, greeting cards, temporary tattoos, decorative socks, knit caps, Halloween death mask makeup kits – you name it, it’s out there.

I am American-born of Mexican, Lebanese and English descent, but in my heart, I am equal parts American and Mexican. While Mexican culture was a strong influence in my life, my family only celebrated American holidays. We did not celebrate Día de los Muertos, but I like the idea of it. I think of my loved ones who’ve passed often, but it seems like a good idea to slow down and really HONOR them and the memories they left us. What lessons did they teach us? What legacy did they leave that touches us today? What stories about them do we want to share with the next generation?

In presentations about Evangelina Takes Flight, I speak about the 3 deaths in Mexican folklore – the 1st of which is when your heart stops beating and your body ceases to function, the 2nd of which is when your body is consigned to the grave, and the 3rd and final death is when people no longer remember you – when they stop saying your name.

Día de los Muertos means your loved ones will never suffer the cruel fate of that 3rd death. It’s not a scary holiday. It’s a celebration of those we’ve loved and lost. Isn’t that beautiful?

PS: The Book of Life is a little wonky/different, but it’s shockingly creative, funny and the animation is fantastic!

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