October stands for many things: the beginnings of fall, shortening of afternoons, apple cider, and oh yes- Halloween. While many people think of October 31 in terms of Halloween and candy, in my house it’s also time to celebrate an additional holiday: Dia de los Muertos, the day of the dead.
Dia de los Muertos is related to Halloween if you stretch back far enough; think of it as a distant cousin. The oldest incarnation is believed to be rooted in the Gaelic festival of Samhain. On this day, celebrated October 31 or November 1, the boundary between summer and winter thins the veil between the worlds thins, making it easier for spirits to enter our world.
As people migrated and brought their religious and spiritual customs along with them, the tradition changed: All Saints Day and All Souls Day are celebrated November 1 and 2 to commemorate the departed in the Catholic faith. And in Mexico, the Catholic tradition was combined with the traditional late summer holiday of the Day of the Dead to become Dia de los Muertos.
Dia de los Muertos is a happy holiday filled with bright colors, sugar skulls, candles, and food, a day for people to gather and remember those who have left this earth. Dia de los Muertos actually encompasses two days: November 1, the day of the innocents, to honor children; and November 2, when they are joined by the spirits of departed adults. The dead are remembered, and celebrated with love and joy; to despair would offend the spirits.
Here in San Diego, we have many opportunities to celebrate Dia de los Muertos. And with so few opportunities for people to remember our departed pets, I’ve taken to using the day of the innocents to memorialize the many animals who have enriched my life throughout the years.
On November 1, my kids will gather with me and make a little Dia de los Muertos altar for our gone but not forgotten pets, from Nuke the coonhound to Apollo the black cat. After beginning the Celebration of Life with Paws into Grace, where we structure services to include children in the memorials of those we love and lose, we all have come to realize just how important getting through loss as a family can be.
It’s just one of the many lessons our pets continue to teach us.