There is a part in my novel, The Monarchs, in which the two main characters, a husband and wife, witness the Day of the Dead displays in San Miguel, Mexico.
The Day of the Dead, actually two days, occurs on November 1 and 2, corresponding to the American and Canadian ritual of Halloween. Like Halloween, the Day of the Dead still involves the routine of children going out in costume and collecting candy.
But there is much more to the Day of the Dead in which families and friends honour the memory of the loved ones in their lives who have died. This sacred time of the year combines both solemnity and celebration. People set up shrines for the dead, including not only pictures of the dead but also objects that were special to them. For children, these could be toys. For adults, perhaps a bottle of wine or a pack of cigarettes. For people of all ages, maybe a book or something related to a hobby.
The shrines are never tacky. They are usually elaborate, put together with painstaking precision, and always beautiful, often framed in orange decoration and dusted with marigold petals. These petals often form pathways from the shrines to the ground and along the ground, a symbol of a soul’s pathway back to earth to visit the living.
During the Day of the Dead, it is also not unusual to see families having picnics in the cemetery, gathered around the graves of those who have died.
This may sound macabre to some.
I find it touching and I included a description of it in my novel since the two main characters talk about the mystery of death and how people view it as terrifying. The Day of the Dead, to me, is a comforting tradition that takes much of the terror out of the inevitability of death.