Generally, the holidays celebrated at the end of October and beginning of November arise from pagan "festivals marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter or the "darker half" of the year". In the 9th century AD, Western Christianity shifted the date of All Saints' Day to 1 November, while 2 November later became All Souls' Day. Over time, Samhain and All Saints'/All Souls' merged to create the modern Halloween (Wikipedia).
I've always had a healthy fascination with the morbid. In fifth grade, we did a year-long team project based off a visit to an old cemetery in Texas. We took rubbings. I fell in love with the old gravestones and marveled at the dates and ages of the people that were buried in the ground there.
Even though it’s a very Catholic and very Mexican holiday, Día de los Muertos has become a rather important holiday to me. It was celebrated on November 1 and November 2 — the first day honoring dead children and infants, the second honoring dead adults — and gives people the opportunity to pray for their lost loved ones.
But other than running the risk of cultural appropriation, why not celebrate it myself? What better way to ruminate on my humanism by acknowledging that this is the only life I have, and that someday, I will also die? While the holiday obviously celebrates spirits, which I don’t believe in, it also offers a chance for introspection: what have I done this year to make the world a better place for those around me?
Google published a Doodle honoring Day of the Dead and Google Arts & Culture recently put out a video titled Día de Muertos: Una Celebración de Vida.
I found some of the quotes from the video inspiring:
“To me, when you build that altar, you’re not speaking to the dead one as such. You’re speaking to the dead one that lives within you. The dead don’t stop existing when they die. They keep on living within you.“
Like my maternal grandmother, I love to walk around barefoot.
My grandfather, a Southern Baptist preacher, did headstands well into his seventies. When I do yoga, I’m thankful for whatever talent he may have passed down to me.
My maternal grandfather worked on stealth airplanes and the heat shield for the space shuttle — and I love all things space and aviation related.
Our loved ones really do keep on existing in some way after they’re gone.
“The least a tradition like the Day of the Dead does is remind us death is a part of life, and we can’t forget that. I believe what damages a society the most is not being aware of death. All of us will die.” — Guillermo Arriaga, writer
Even though the official holiday is over, I encourage you to take a moment to think about the family members and friends who have passed away — and be grateful for the life you have.
My aunt, my dad's only sister, died last month. So this year, any celebration of Day of the Dead I do is in her remembrance.
Her name was Laura Hart.
A version of this blog post first appeared at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2016/11/03/celebrating-dia-de-los-muertos-without-the-superstition/#wPeEpS7cAszkCoEF.99.