Many of us love the tradition of Days of the Dead, or Días de los Muertos. For some of us, it is all the Mexican cultural activities, sights, and smells that make this a festive holiday to celebrate the lives of those who have passed. Others love it because this is the season to honor our beloved spirit ones with altars, family gatherings, and create spirit time by reminiscing about our deceased loved ones and ancestors.
I am a Mexican-American parent, Doctor of Public Health, and a Family Success Coach. I love this season because it provides families the opportunity to connect, share love, heal old wounds, and develop a positive family tradition and path. When you make time to tell positive stories of our departed loved ones and ancestors, you develop the practice and legacy of being a healthy and loving family.
Because of COVID-19, some cultural and family advocates are wondering whether celebrating Days of the Dead is possible this year. I say, YES! Absolutely! Because of COVID-19, we may not be able to have large events with multiple altars, indigenous dance, and cultural food, yet we can have powerful individual family altars and home gatherings.
Now, more than ever, this is the time to gain strength by drawing from the indigenous roots and spirit of Days of the Dead. This is the Season for Honoring Life, Mother Earth, and our deceased loved ones. It is the period of gratitude, family healing, and spirit care. We use the family altar and gatherings to remember what we are grateful for; resolve family issues with those dead and alive; and address our personal spiritual needs.
I look forward to families, churches, and cultural and community centers arranging beautiful altars and families organizing gatherings for this period, which many practice from mid-October to early November. These altars called ofrendas are constructed to honor Life, our Mother Earth, and the lives of our deceased loved ones. We can also plan for small virus-free home gatherings or organize family and friends together via Zoom to tell stories of our spirit ones and extend gratitude for their lives.
Possible Themes for 2020
There is much to grieve and to be grateful for this year. COVID-19 has brought the death of more than 200,000 Americans and many businesses, and the collapse of many of our traditions involving group gatherings like social intimacy, hugging, shaking hands, and kissing. We are experiencing more destruction by fire, floods, and hurricanes due to global warming resulting from oil consumption, materialism, and consumerism. We have seen the Black Lives Matter Movement awaken millions around the world to the realities of the epidemic of racism and violence that results in the death of too many Black and Brown people, women, gays, and others.
Historically, Chicanos and Mexican-Americans, have used this period and our ofrendas and family gatherings to honor departed loved ones and community heroes, and to rekindle among family and friends a sense of history and responsibility to take actions necessary to advance justice and better care for our families, communities, and our Mother Earth.
For all these reasons, I encourage all to integrate into our altar-making and family and Zoom gatherings the following subjects or themes.
COVID-19. Create a special honoring for all those people who died prematurely because of the COVID 19, and especially first responders and essential workers who passed, were ill, or who continue working. To the degree possible, we should find out who they are, reach out to extend thanks, and extend prayers and love to them.
Global Warming. In light of the devasting fires in the West Coast, and the hurricanes and flooding in the South-East, honor our Mother Earth in our ofrendas, and talk stories to inspire more people to fight to protect our air, food, soil, and water.
Black Lives Matter! Honor the many Black and Brown people murdered and injured as a result of police violence and extend support to all the people who are being penalized for participating in peaceful protests. All our altars should include something to honor these deceased; and our conversations and prayers should seek to encourage reforms to end violence and support the police to develop a practice of community service and accountability.
Judge Bader Ginsburg & Others. With the loss of so many heroes this year, like Congressman John Lewis (civil rights leader), Kobe Bryant (basketball legend), Xavier Montes (local artist, musician, and cultural activist), Chadwick Boseman (actor), the Honorable Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Supreme Court Justice), and others, we can honor them by committing to take forward their passion for love and justice.
Elections. Because we have the 2020 elections in November, our ofrendas and gatherings can include stories and various types of reminders to vote for those candidates who we know are partisan to the hopes and needs of the people and the well-being of our Earth.
Get Ready & Do It!
The purpose of these recommendations is to help you envision how you can celebrate Days of the Dead, enlist others, build your altars with conscious focus and intent, and organize your intimate or zoom gatherings. Be creative, colorful, courageous! Start your gathering with a prayer or words of gratitude, and then invite guests to share who they want to honor, why, and how they are going to take the best of these spirit ones forward.
Don’t be surprised if miracles happen—you may experience a heightened vibration of your spirit, meaningful conversations, increased family unity, and follow-up positive actions. Make it happen for Days of the Dead 2020!
You are invited by the Museum of Ventura County to a free Zoom Workshop on Creating a Family Altar with Dr. Roberto Vargas on Wednesday, October 14, 2020 from 6:30PM—7:45PM. Go to venturamuseum.org to register