The Mexican holiday of Día de los Muertes may seem macabre and downright odd to many people. I know it felt that way to me, until I learned more about it. This tradition, which translates to “Day of the Dead” in English, is worthy of respect, admiration, and adoption! It transforms the sadness of losing a loved one into something meaningful and even joyous. The celebration is about encouraging their dearly departed to return in spirit and to let them know they have not been forgotten.
A major symbol of the celebration is the calavera, a model of a skull made from either sugar or clay and colorfully decorated. Some people may turn away from this kind of imagery, finding it to be too disturbing, distasteful, or frightening. For many people, death is a topic to avoid at all costs. Yet many cultures and philosophies honor human mortality and the inevitability of death, seeing it as a route to enlightenment and even happiness. Stoicism is influenced by the ancient practice of memento mori–remembering we will die–as a kind of compass or guiding star for our limited time on earth.
One of the tenets of Buddhism is impermanence and being willing to let go of the human tendency to grasp or cling to anything. Buddhist monks create elaborate, painstaking works of art called mandalas using colored sand as their medium. Once their work is completed, there is a ceremony and viewing, after which the mandala is destroyed, swept into a pile and placed in a river to carry the blessings far and wide.