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Happy Feast of All Souls', the Day of the Dead And Why You Should Celebrate

One great thing about being Catholic is that we are always celebrating something. Halloween? Yes, please! Feast of All Saints'? You betcha! Feast of All Souls? We are in!

A woman decorates her family "ofrenda" or Day of the Dead altar
One thing that nearly all world religions have in common is some sort of attention to ancestors. It's common for Buddhist to have an altar or shrine in the home,  with a scroll in place listing the family ancestors. Both the Chinese and Japanese have a time of year when ancestral graves are cleaned, decorated and there is food prepared - both for the living and dead.

As Catholics, we celebrate All Saints' and All Souls'. I kinda wish we had more attention paid to what we can do in our homes to celebrate - our celebrations are pretty much limited to church attendance, unless you're more of a zealot. (And I consider myself one, so I do not mean that in a pejorative sense.)

Now, if you want to see these celebrations done right, head to Catholic Mexico and the Day of the Dead. This is a marvelous example of how Catholicism takes an indigenous belief and "sanctifies" it by bringing the Light of Truth (Jesus) to it.

In most Indian villages, beautiful altars (ofrendas) are made in each home. They are decorated with candles, buckets of flowers (wild marigolds called cempasuchil & bright red cock's combs) mounds of fruit, peanuts, plates of turkey mole, stacks of tortillas and big Day-of-the-Dead breads called pan demuerto. The altar needs to have lots of food, bottles of soda, hot cocoa and water for the weary spirits. Toys and candies are left for the angelitos, and on Nov. 2, cigarettes and shots of mezcal are offered to the adult spirits. Little folk art skeletons and sugar skulls, purchased at open-air markets, provide the final touches.
Day of the Dead is a very expensive holiday for these self-sufficient, rural based, indigenous families. Many spend over two month's income to honor their dead relatives. They believe that happy spirits will provide protection, good luck and wisdom to their families. Ofrendabuilding keeps the family close.
On the afternoon of Nov. 2, the festivities are taken to the cemetery. People clean tombs, play cards, listen to the village band and reminisce about their loved ones. Tradition keeps the village close. Day of the Dead is becoming very popular in the U.S. ~ perhaps because we don't have a way to celebrate and honor our dead, or maybe it's because of our fascination with it's mysticism.
When was the last time you walked around a cemetery? Have you ever visited ancestral graves? "It's been awhile" and "No..." are the most common answers. Yet, as Catholics, we passionately believe that the righteous dead (saints) are more fully alive than we are, since they exist now in the presence of Almighty God. These "big brothers and sisters" in the faith are the most likely people for us to ask for intercessory prayer (No, we do not worship the dead. Neither do most religions. We honor them.)

Every Catholic family could use the month of November to talk about how the Catholic faith has been lived out in OUR family. Talk about Grandma and Grandpa's marriage. How did our ancestors bring the faith from the Old World to the New? Are any of our family members found a new parish? What sacrifices did they make to make sure we were raised and educated in the faith?

Happy Feast of All Souls'. May this month be a rich one for you and your family of faith!

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