It’s the beginning of Fall and Laredo has turned its all year dry, dusty brown into a beautiful orange, sunkissed yellow, and a vibrant red. The wind is fresher than normal and Freeform has begun its annual 31 nights of Halloween movies special. Skeletons, witches and zombies seem to be everywhere. Candy is flying off the shelves as people prepare for the hordes of trick-or-treaters that will take the spooky streets this All Hallows Eve. HEB starts selling sugar skulls and bakeries have dozens of orders of pan de muerto. Not only is this time of year full of superstitions, scary movies and elaborate costumes, but it’s also the time where the cemeteries are full of color and each house displays cempazuchitl flowers leading to the entrance, right by their homemade altars of their deceased loved ones. Ladies and gentlemen, it’s finally October.
This month is special for our culture. It’s not only Hallow’s Eve, but also the Day of the Dead, or Dia de los Muertos. Our border celebrates life in a very special way. El Dia de los Muertosis a three day celebration (October 31st – November 2nd) that honors our friends and relatives who have passed on, inviting them to come back for a visit. On these days, it is believed the gates of heaven are opened so the souls can return for one night to spend time with their families. Instead of mourning until our eyes are dry, we open our doors for them to live amongst us at least for a day. Contrary to American popular belief, Dia de los Muertos is seen as a triumph over death and rather becomes a celebration of life.
When the souls of loved ones return, family members want to provide the best presentation possible. It is believed the first place the dead visit is their gravesite. Prior to their return, families spend days cleaning the graves of the deceased and decorating them with cempasúchil, candles, papel picado and personal photos. They want the spirits to know they are very much welcome, so the families place an ofrenda or offering on the altar. The offerings usually contain gifts such as the deceased’s favorite objects, food, drinks, religious articles, and even toys in the event when a child has passed on. Quite often, you can see many families playing games and eating by candlelight during the festive night, sharing yet again another memory with their loved ones.
Apart from cemeteries beautifully adorned, if you take a stroll around the heart of the city, you can see how downtown Laredo is decorated with papel picadoand an ofrendais on display for the community. We dance among the dead and reminisce on stories of aquel tiempothat are so dear to our hearts. This holiday brings families together to one big feast and dance party. During this time, it’s a special time to remember and to transform grief into acceptance. In our border culture, death is something to be celebrated, not feared.