Skip to main content

Why We Don't Celebrate El Dia de los Muertos, either

El Dia de los Muertos, (The Day of the Dead) is often considered the Latin-American equivalent to Halloween, as it is a celebration that takes place every year on November 1st and 2nd throughout Latin America. But it actually has nothing to do with Halloween, and even pre-dates the Celtic Samhain, which is where our modern-day Halloween traditions come from. 



The ancient indigenous Aztec people of Mexico celebrated the lives of past ancestors 3,000 years ago, and that month-long ritual was condensed into just a few days around the 20th century and is now known as the Day of the Dead. Today, El Dia doe los Muertos is a time for Latinos to remember their dead loved ones and celebrate them, for it is believed that the souls of all people that have passed away return to Earth to check up on their families during this day. 

But up until last night, I didn't believe El Dia de los Muertos was celebrated in Guatemala. Growing up in California with many Mexican-American friends, I was familiar with the Dia de los Muertos traditions of Mexico, yet after being immersed in the Guatemalan immigrant community here in Massachusetts for the past eight years, I'd never seen or heard any Guatemalan even reference El Dia de los Muertos, so I figured they must not celebrate it.

Last night as I was writing about the history of Halloween and I saw online that El Dia de los Muertos is celebrated throughout Latin America, I was confused. So I asked my husband to clarify.

"Francisco, do you celebrate El Dia de los Muertos in Guatemala?" I asked him.

"Absolutely, it's a huge celebration," he told me. 

"Really?" I responded, incredulous. "What do you do?"

"We visit the cemetery and it's a big party, eat fiambre, fly kites, and make ofrendas," he explained.

I was completely surprised, because although I had eaten fiambre before (it's a cold salad of picked vegetables, cold cuts, and sausages) I had no idea it was a traditional food of El Dia de los Muertos and I couldn't believe this was the first I'd heard of any of this.

"Why don't you do any of that here?" I asked him.

"Here the dead are just dead," he said.

And my heart dropped.

That was as far as our conversation went, but his words resounded within me. How could it be that they would leave such a huge piece of their culture behind? Especially since we try so hard in our family to embrace both of our cultures and educate our children about what it's like to be Guatemalan-American. 

But I think his comment says so much about the immigrant experience here in the US. No matter how hard you try to keep culture alive, how can traditions like El Dia de los Muertos survive, when the point of the celebration is to visit your dead loved ones in cemeteries where they are interned? It's not like most immigrants can hop on planes every October 31st and go home for a quick visit. Francisco wasn't even able to return to Guatemala when his mother was ill in 2013 and he wasn't there when she died shortly after. He didn't get to visit her grave until we went to Guatemala together in 2015. 

So although I want our kids to know about both of our cultural backgrounds, I'm not going to fight for El Dia de los Muertos, either. I imagine days like today might just be a little too painful for most, and so that's why traditions like these are left behind. 





Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Why my Children Won't Believe in Santa Claus

Tonight all across the world, children are waiting for Santa with bated breath. They've made lists of wants and perhaps written letters addressed to the North Pole, baked cookies, set out milk, and dream of sugar plums dancing in their heads. But not my children. Well, maybe the dreaming of sugar plums part, but definitely not the white beard, chubby and plump right jolly old elf part. Even before my two biological children were born, my husband and I made the decision to not deceive them with the narrative of Santa, and in fact, not give them any gifts at all on Christmas. Intrigued? Infuriated? Here's why... My husband is from Guatemala and was raised Jehovah Witness , and one of the tenants of that faith is a strict adherence to not celebrating anything here on earth. This includes not celebrating Christmas or birthdays , and not giving gifts to commemorate these days. While he isn't a practicing Witness right now (instead we attend Celebration International Church

Is 5 Little Monkeys Racist?

I’ve seen a lot of Tik Toks debunking children’s nursery rhymes lately. I have two toddlers, so now whenever I hear one of those rhymes, I think about their unsavory origins. But my son loves, loves Five Little Monkeys. He’s just learning to talk, and can almost say it by himself. I’ve thought about telling him to stop singing it since I learned in the original lyrics it’s not monkeys jumping on the bed, but he just gets so much joy from singing it as he jumps up and falls down, I thought... no harm, no foul, right? As long as he thinks the song is about monkeys, it’s ok.  Until my niece came over one day, and the three toddlers were playing on an old mattress we have on the living room floor for them to jump around on. My son asked me to sing 5 Little Monkeys. At first it was cute, because they literally were jumping on the bed, but then I took a good look at the three of them.  My kids are half-Guatemalan but very fair, like I am. Whereas my niece is half-black, and her skin happens