In some cultures, death is not so much the end of something but rather a new beginning that should be embraced.
In more ancient cultures like those of Asia and the pre-European cultures or civilizations, like the Aztecs and the Mayans, death is just another part of life.
Because of this relaxed view on death, it is only proper to celebrate the times we have on earth and honor those who have passed on. “The Day of the Dead” or “El Dia de los Muertos” embodies the spirit of this idea. It is an important Mexican celebration for the people who are no longer with us.
Recently, Gabriela Estrada Centelles and her husband, Alejandro Martinez, came to Bellevue College to give a presentation about this incredible celebration. She explained how Westerners have a different view on death as opposed to how Mexicans and other South American people have traditionally viewed death. “It is a celebration of life rather than death,” said Centelles.
She spoke of how the dead are honored by offerings that the deceased enjoyed in life. Anything, from their favorite foods to their preferred brand of cigarettes, is offered on an altar that is traditionally set up on November 1. The celebration typically lasts for two days, depending on the specific region of Mexico.
Centelles also explained the story and described the history of this tradition. It was surprising to find out that this celebration is even older than the Aztec Empire that ruled Mexico before the Spanish conquered them.
“When the Catholics came, they tried to change what they saw as “pagan rituals” but they ended up just mixing the beliefs into one ritual,” said Martinez.
This can be explained by the deep-rooted nature of the beliefs held by the Mexican culture. Even though they were forced to believe contradictory ideas completely alien to them, they adapted and moved on.
The Day of the Dead is celebrated in the United States but is somewhat misunderstood as Americans celebrate Halloween , which is more gruesome and scary in nature.
The Day of the Dead celebration lacks that macabre ideal; it deals more with life than it does death. It is also less about giving people a good scare and viewing the dead as something to be feared, and instead is an acceptance of death as part of the inevitable conclusion to life.
It is not up to us when or how we die. But it is up to us to learn to enjoy life while we can, and embrace its ending, facing it with courage.