Dia De Los Muertos
In Mexican culture we are always celebrating family. Dia De Los Muertos is different in that it is a special day to honor those who have passed but this was strange to me as a kid because honoring your family and loved ones is something that you did everyday. I grew to love the tradition of Dia De Los Muertos as I got older because I began to understand it more and gain a greater appreciation for such traditions.
Dia De Los Muertos was a very normal family gathering in my household growing up. Sports were always on and everyone brought food for the buffet. We always shared conchas, Mexican sweet bread, and atole, a traditional cornmeal beverage. Conchas and atole were a long standing tradition for the Vargas family. We did not make an altar but instead had a mantle with family photos. There was nothing in particular that we did growing up that was special to observe the day instead it was much the same as our Sunday church tradition.
I grew up in a strong, traditional Catholic family. We attended church every Sunday, 6:45 a.m. service. I was an altar boy and every Sunday after service we went out to breakfast; me in my suit and tie, everyone else in their Sunday best. After, it was standard for everyone to congregate back at our family home. There were easily thirty to forty people every Sunday. Inevitably, there would be more food. Worship, family, food. Honor, family, food.
As I grew into adulthood I moved away from Catholicism but did continue honoring my loved ones for Dia De Los Muertos. The celebration has not really changed for me but my understanding of why we celebrate has deepened and become more meaningful especially once I became a father.
It was extremely important to me to pass on the tradition to my kids. I wanted to be sure that they understand and celebrate their heritage because regionally, here in the Northeast USA, there is not the same Mexican American community or culture as in Southern California where I was raised. Every year, we make our ofrenda, altar, and decorate the table together as a family. We share stories and memories so that we will not forget and so that my kids understand where they came from.
Dia De Los Muertos forces you to recognize and acknowledge your ancestors. Each year, it asks me to remember those who struggled before me, people like my father who immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico, in order to afford me the beautiful, blessed life I have today.