Day of the Dead 2020: A Celebration of Memory

As most of you know, Oaxaca is shut-down for Day of the Dead because of Covid-19 infection warnings. Visitors have been encouraged to NOT come, since no events will take place, public activities are canceled, and attractions that usually welcome visitors are closed. These are unsettling times. The national election in the USA is in two-days. The difuntos are stirring in their graves, readying themselves to visit today and tomorrow, November 1 and November 2. This year, it will be without the usual fanfare.

I’m taking pause to recall Days of the Dead past in Oaxaca and here in North Carolina. My altar is modest this year. There is no party and related conversation among intimates friends who I have invited into my home to eat tamales, drink Corona beer, and talk about the meaning of life, death, loss and remembrance.

2018 Day of the Dead, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Norma Schafer

The altar is a pre-Hispanic offering related to ancestor worship. It takes us deep into the spiritual world of memory, guided by the pungent aromas of copal incense, wild marigolds, fresh cooked tortillas hot off the comal, mole amarillo or mole negro, pan de muertos, a cup of mezcal.

Day of the Dead is like a meditation. It gives us pause to wonder about the meaning of life and if there is an afterlife, what we can do here on earth during the time given to us to create a more meaningful and better world. It prepares us for the abyss to come. It gives us a connection to the people in our lives who we have loved and lost — to old age, disease, heartbreak, distance. It is a celebration for continuity, not only for individuals and family, but for community and the expansive world that is inclusive and forgiving.

2020 Day of the Dead Altar, Norma Schafer

My altar this year is modest. My parents, Ben and Dorothy Beerstein, are with me now. Not just now, but always. Too, today is a formalized opportunity to remember and appreciate them, for who they were able to become, for their limitations and accomplishments, and for giving me life. In my own religious tradition, we do this by lighting a 24-hour candle on the day of death. In Zapotec tradition, this is a community celebration of an annual Day of Remembrance.

This is also an opportunity to look at cross-cultural similarities — the universal themes among us.

Here are some links to the history of Day of the Dead, and my photographs and writings over past years. How do you celebrate this passage of return? How will this year be different than years past?

Sitting With the Ancestors: Day of the Dead, Teotitlan del Valle Cemetery

Finding Meaning: Day of the Dead Inspiration for Women’s Writing Workshop

Dia de los Muertos, Day of the Dead: Talking With the Ancestors

Explaining Day of the Dead to Friends

Is Mexico’s Day of the Dead Like Halloween? Muertos Photos in Black and White.

Preparing for Day of the Dead, Dia de los Muertos

Another Year in Santa Cruz Xoxocotlan, Oaxaca, Day of the Dead

Oaxaca children’s procession, by Barbara Szombatfalvy
San Martin Tilcajete cemetery, by Karen Nein

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