A Celebration for Those Who Left Before Us

2016 December 2016 Suzanne A. Marshall

By Suzanne A. Marshall from the December 2016 Edition

This year brought our first opportunity to be involved in the Mexican celebrations called Day of the Dead. In past years, we hadn’t returned from Canada soon enough or had the opportunity to enjoy an organized celebration.

We joined Dra. Elizabeth Torres (University of Colima, Manzanillo), her dancers and organizers for a midday celebration at Rancho Los Manantiales on November 1st. Following a caravan of cars from a local parking lot, we entered the ranch gates located in the nearby hills and found ourselves in a quiet oasis away from the distraction of the streets and traffic.

A beautifully decorated, large, shady shelter awaited us. With the smell of food in the air, we found tables and chairs and a dance area in the center where we could all observe the traditional and ancient festivities.

                                                                      Dancer with feathered headdress

The dance floor area itself was framed with corn husks, marigolds and flower petals, all laid out in a beautiful display.

Dra. Torres explained the ancient customs to us as she and her dancers stood in traditional costumes and beautifully festooning, feathered head regalia. In Mexico, it is a time to remember and celebrate the family members and friends that have passed away. Rather than a baleful event, it is a celebration of their memories and lives and the peace they have now found. Alters and shrines are laid out for receiving food and flowers in their memories.


The celebrations in Mexico are actually a two-day event with the first day celebrating the children and the second day for the adults. With the sounds of ancient drumming and the blowing of conch shells, the pre-Columbian dancers began their rhythmic steps and performed several dances for us, each with increasing fervor. Once completed, we all quietly walked through the trees to a shrine by a small pond to make our offerings to the spirits and memories of our loved ones. A man began to sing a lovely ballad in Spanish as he strummed his guitar. It was a truly spiritual moment amidst the trees and grasses. This was a wonderful experience for me as I placed my flowers and remembered my own loved ones and felt somehow more closely reconnected to them for a while.

                                                                                                Pre-Columbian dancers

To the sound of beautiful music, we then returned through the trees to the shelter where we enjoyed the delicious tamales and an array of fruit and drinks that were waiting for us. My personal impression of these Mexican celebrations is how joyfully they embrace what could otherwise be such a macabre event. Yes, they are playful with the displays of skeletons all about and some celebrants dress up in ghoulish deathly makeup and costume but it’s all done with a sense of humor, joy and celebration. I am told that in some neighborhoods, as in Canada and the US, the children also dress in costumes and go calling door to door for treats and candy.

Throughout Mexico, The Day of The Dead brings celebration to countless cemeteries and gatherings. ¡Qué bueno!

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