Friday, October 16, 2015
In the Mexican tradition, people set up a table with a photo of the person they wish to remember. On the table, they have a plate of that person's favorite food, plus other things they enjoyed during their life. So the table could include a deck of cards, a favorite book, a musical instrument, piece of sports equipment, whatever would help remember that person. In the Celtic tradition, there was the Dumb Supper, which is when a place was set at the table for the person who died. And perhaps a photo of that person would grace the room. People might tell stories about that person or sing a favorite song of theirs. In both cases, the idea is that we are inviting the spirits to join us in preparing a going away offering to that person, acknowledging that we will miss them and wish them well on their journey into the next world.
The Day of the Dead celebration traditionally features a character named La Calavera Catrina, a skeleton wearing a fancy hat and a dress who is dancing her way from this world into the next. It is an affirmation that life goes on for our spirit when it leaves the body.
All month long we dance with the spirits whether we actually do one of these rituals or not. As we head into the dark and cold of winter, we acknowledge that we are interacting with spirits as they take one last look around where they used to live.
We also dance with spirit in other ways. We dress in costumes and take on another persona for evenings when we go to Halloween parties, and there are Halloween parties all month. Our spirits dance as they play out some other character that we would rather be for an evening. It is a way of summoning other spirits while we let our imaginations play and for a brief while we try on the feeling of being someone else.
We also dance with spirits as we face the onset of winter, and we see in nature the trees and shrubs whose leaves have turned many beautiful colors that are now letting go of its summer adornment, and the leaves fall to the ground, revealing the skeletons of the trees.
Many of us engage in our semi-annual sleep disturbance brought about by the silliness known as daylight savings time, so we set our clock back and enjoy the darkness. This is also a season when I crave a night of classical music that summons richness and the orchestration of many different instruments, many different sounds into one coordinated sequence of movements celebrating harmony and beauty, especially in pieces featuring a violin as the lead instrument.
We let our playful spirits use parts of nature to make colorful and whimsical decorations with pumpkins and leaves. Color and music dance with our spirits too. Our spirits really feel like dancing in the season of colorful change that we are celebrating.
It is fun watching all the little kids in their costumes continuing the tradition, even though they do not know yet the roots of the traditions they follow, that of the soul cakes and the dumb supper. They celebrate the harvest of candy, and it is a great holiday for kids as a fun time to dress up and get treats from their neighbors.
Falling leaves signal the shift in seasons with more certainty every day, as less leaves are on the branches and more on the ground. We celebrate all that we have harvested this year as well, and we have some food on our shelves for the winter and we work and look toward the future, pulling a card for the year.
We know that this lifetime will end one day, and these festivities encourage us to celebrate the life we have now, dancing with the spirits of those in our lives now, the spirits of those who have left recently, and the spirit of things to come.
Spirits always dance in this season, and we dance with them.