Día de Muertos, celebrating life
I’m not sure when my interest first began in Mexican festivals and rituals. I was not born in that country and have no relatives who come from there. I’m not Catholic, or even Christian. If anything, I align most with the philosophy of Buddhism. Yet, there is something about the family traditions in Mexico which draw me in. As a people, family is placed in high social standing. That extends to all families, not just ones own. Adapting to Spanish colonization, Mexico has created their own way celebrate family, even once they have passed with Día de Muertos.
It was curious timing last year, when my grandfather’s memorial service was held on November 1st. In the Catholic Spain, All Saints Day, is part of the triduum of Allhallowtide, which lasts three days from 31 October to 2 November inclusive. When I pointed this out to my husband, he cautioned me to not read too much into it. We were not of the faith and to join in the religious celebration might be seen as disrespectful. So I let it go, as we were thousands of kilometres away from my family in Barcelona. It was surely not the right time to think about the way I would honour my grandfather’s life, once we were back home.
As we touched down on Canadian soil, in June of 2018, it was a flurry of activity to get ready for my Grandfather’s graveside burial near his parents first family farm in Glen Park, Alberta. It was the most lovely family reunion and celebration of life we could have asked for. My Aunt went to a great deal of effort planning and organizing so many people to gather, share stories and be together in a way that my Grandfather would have loved. At the end, my Dad handed me a little jar of ashes to take home for a special spreading in the fishing grounds which my Grandfather had loved.
The water of the Pacific Ocean which spreads inland around Vancouver Island and into the Fjords, Islands, Passages region presents navigational challenges. Waters are confined; tides and currents are locally strong enough to require proper timing and sailing skill. Seas can be rough any time of the year. The wind can blow up suddenly, adding to the challenge of being out on the water in a small craft. Yet, with all those challenges, we got lucky.
A beautiful sunset opportunity opened up. A combination of excellent weather conditions, calm seas and the availability of a friends boat. We headed out from the marina across extremely calm water. It was a marvel to enjoy such conditions so late in the season. We cruised into a low fog bank, using our navigation to stay in the channel. Not only did we need to pay attention to where the water was deep, but we wanted an easily identifiable marker.
We picked the last buoy position at the end of the channel, just before the Canada-USA border. This is where the water gets deep and we often dropped our traps. Grandpa loved it when we pulled out the keepers and then prepared a huge feed of crab and other seafood. We knew this was the place where a little bit of my Grandfather should rest.
We conducted a little service for our spice jar size of my Grandfather. Nothing long, drawn out or fancy. My Grandfather was a man of few words, carefully chosen. As we took a few moments to recognize just how beautiful the landscape was, the fog pushed away. The sunset was spectacular. As we headed back, before we lost the light, I was reminded of something my Grandfather was famous for saying, “I wonder what the poor people are doing?”
My Grandfather was always a mystery to me. I can’t say I felt like I really knew him. Instead, I focused on enjoying time, doing things with him that he enjoyed. Cooking and eating great food was one of those things. Fishing with my husband, was another one. Forever more, I’ll have Día de Muertos to create his favourite dishes to honour our memories of him.
The key component of the Mexican celebration ritual is to remember those in our family who have passed. On All Hallows Eve, it is thought that the veil between the departed and the living is thin, so we need to dress up to protect ourselves. Then, a whole day is devoted to honoring children who have passed Día de los Inocentes (“Day of the Innocents”). Finally, the day of the dead or Día de los Muertos, where people head out to the gravesites for a clean-up. All the favourite dishes of the departed loved ones are prepared and enjoyed in a celebration.
We are lucky to have had as much time with Grandpa was we did. My children were almost grown and I got the better part of thirty adult years to enjoy many family events. My Grandpa made a special effort to visit me and my family, both when we lived in Vernon and here on the Coast. I only realized it now, those trips were his idea. He wanted to spend time with us. Those occasions were always in the fall, around the time when the Coho salmon are running back up the river to where they were born. The cycle of life ending with the spawned fish, but set to start anew with salmon eggs laid and fertilized in the rocky beds of the river.
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