As some of you know, I was plagued the last couple of months with a very bad dose of the flu that became a very serious chest infection. On doctor's orders, I did very little and rested a lot. There was just so much day time telly one can watch and my energy levels were quite low to do much else; Alan took care of the shop, his work and myself. I felt quite guilty, but there wasn't much I could do about it other than taking my medicine and rest. When I finally got better, there was a pile of things to do, a huge amount of events to go to and I had little or no time to do much else. Today was the first chance I had to do some writing. So here is what we did for this year's Day of the Dead celebrations!
Our friends, Jim and Maria Kennedy, from Altantic Sea Kayaking invited us to celebrate the Day of the Dead with them in Skibbereen, in West Cork. It's no secret that we both love that part of the country, so without hesitation, we said yes! As it turns out, a group of folks down in Schull celebrate this Ancient Mexican tradition too, which has been inscribed by UNESCO in their list of Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity in 2008.
The Day of the Dead is quite a complex feast and its origins go back as far as the recorded history of the country goes. The feast as we know it now, is the result of a sort of mash up between an ancient indigineous Mexican tradition, the catholic Feast of All Saints and the liturgical celebration of the Faithful Dead. The ancient Mexicans believed that death was an awakening; they believed that we merely exist in penance, in this dream-like world of ours, and it is in death that we awake and start living.
My Mexican ancestors were deeply connected with nature and its seasons... Maize (corn) was considered a God-given gift to man, a gift so powerful it provided nurture to the Mexican people for milenia. They believed that maize grew with the help and blessing of their own acestors and so the cycle of the Maize was deeply embeded in the Mexican civic, social and religious calendars. Originally, the feast of the Day of the Dead was celebrated at the heart of the maize harvest season to thank our ancestors and share with them the benefits of the first fruits of the season. The ofrendas or offerings during the Day of the Dead, were a symbolic thank you gesture for the help received during the growing and harvesting of maize. When the Spanish Franciscans and Dominicans arrived shortly after the Spanish Conquistadores, the clash of two religions and cultures gave birth to a number of shared expressions of faith. The Feast of The Day of the Dead is a great example of this. The consolidation of the ancient pagan tradition with a minor, but simbolic catholic faith celebration, produced what it is now a profoundly religious celebration in most parts of the country.
While the tradition never died or diminished in central and south parts of Mexico, as a child growing up in the northern region of the country, I was exposed very little to it, as it was considered quite 'uncool' at the time when halloween was more modern and 'civilized'... thankfully in later years, the tradition has been revived in the whole of the country and it has now become part of our school curriculum so children and young people can benefit of the wisdom of our ancestors.
What was originally a month long celebration in August, is now a 2-3 day fest. From the 31st of October and all through the 1st and 2nd of November, people clean and prepare the cementeries, they visit the graves of their loved ones, they place offerings, light candles, play music and pray. Many homes set Day of the Dead altars with ofrendas (offerings) to honour those who have gone before us... like the ancient Mexicans, we give thanks and remember our loved ones, we cook a feast and share it. We welcome the souls of our dead back on earth for one night a year and we show them how much we care by throwing some food, music and booze! To an outsider, this might look a bit macabre but to us, it is the celebration of a life gone but not extinguished, it's paying homage to those who have awakened from this dream-like life and are living full lives in the after life, waiting for when the time is right to welcome us with open arms.
On the night of the Day of the Dead, we built an altar and placed our ofrendas... we had a demo of traditional Mexican Food which was attended by an eclectic bunch of West Cork Folk and we had a ball making the traditional Day of the Dead bread, which Maria nearly mastered in one night (KUDOS). We shared the meal and a few drinks and we had a fantastic time getting to know Jim and Maria's friends. Here are a few photos we took...