Darkness & Light

Day of the Dead altar 2014

Rem and I set up our Dia de los Muertos altar last weekend.  Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead is a not an event from the culture either of us grew up in but we borrow or share it with our neighbors here in San Rafael and San Francisco.

Each year the altar is a little different. It seems like each year we have new names to add to our garland of hearts.

Heart Garland

This year we included sweet Ruby and I found a photo of a much younger Rem and a young Ruby to display.

Ruby Girl with Rem

In addition to our altar, we attended the San Francisco celebration for the first time.  This included a Festival of the Altars in Garfield Park and a Procession with traditional Aztec dancers, artists, activists and community members.  I like the description on the Dia de los Muertos SF site about the event:

Dia de los Muertos is a traditional Meso-American holiday dedicated to the ancestors; it honors both death and the cycle of life. In Mexico, neighbors gather in local cemeteries to share food, music, and fun with their extended community, both living and departed. The celebration acknowledges that we still have a relationship with our ancestors and loved ones that have passed away.

In San Francisco, Day of the Dead has been celebrated in the Mission district since the early 70s with art, music, performances and a walking procession, which help us contemplate our existence and mortality — a moment to remember deceased friends and family, and our connections beyond our immediate concerns.

Altar in SF

So – a holiday that remembers and honors our loved ones that have passed away, and uses both food and art in the celebration. This is Pan de Muerto, or “bread of the dead,” a sweet bread yeast bread, from our altar last year.

Pan de Morto 2013

At Craft Gym in late October we made Papel Picado or perforated paper, used as decoration for different occasions but for Dia de los Muertos, it usually depicts humorous and whimsical skulls and skeletons.

Homemade Papel Picado

Rem and I have some beautiful papel picado that we bought on a visit to Tijuana with much more detailed and elaborate designs.

commercial papel

Artisans using traditional methods use chisels to cut through about 50 sheets of tissue paper at a time but machine made versions are also available.  I cut mine with scissors and did one sheet at a time.

In our celebration of Dia de los Muertos, I notice the contrasts: skulls that are made of sugar, bright, festive colors instead of the more familiar dark ones used around death and grieving in our culture.

Candles glow on our 2013 altar.

Candle Lit Altar 2013

This past weekend I paid a visit to my dad’s grave. It was late in the afternoon and from the path below his grave, I could see the piece of abalone shell set into his gravestone, catching the rays of the setting sun.

I hiked up the hillside  and cleared away stems and dried up flowers from the site, arranged some fruits and vegetables of the season, then scattered the dried flower petals around. I still feel deep sadness and miss my dad terribly, but I also honor his memory in many ways, including lighting candles on an altar for Dia de los Muertos.

After shedding a few tears, sharing some current events and singing some songs, I took a final look at his grave.  The colors of the abalone shell, glowing in the last, diffused sunlight were beautiful and reminded me that even as our days become shorter and we’re entering the darkest part of the year, there is still light and beauty to be found.

Thank you for your visit. Thank you, Rem, for sharing your photos.

Altar 2014

 

 

 

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Filed under Crafts, Life

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