Today is el Día de los Muertos; well, actually, it’s the second (and last) day of the two-day celebration of life, death, and family. If you want to know more about the Day of the Dead, there are many excellent resources online. This entry is going to focus on my altar.
The Day of the Dead is celebrated in several different ways, which can vary according to where your family is from in Mexico and/or where you’ve ended up in the world. In America, I was lucky to live in an area where it was easy to take part in Mexican and Chican@ community. There would be altars at the church and the cemetaries would be packed with calaveras (sugar skulls). Two main elements of the Day of the Dead are decorating the gravesite and building an altar. Usually I only decorate the gravesite, but in Korea this is not an option, so I’ve built an altar.
Because I couldn’t find marigolds, I made them. Oranges and candles are elements of an altar. So are pictures and colorful paper. Normally I would buy the paper from a Mexican market, but there are none in Jeonju so I bought some traditional hanji from the local CNA and cut it all myself. Usually altars (and graves) are decorated with things that the deceased enjoyed, as well as foods that they enjoyed, something to drink, and sugar skulls. I included the plants (lilacs; my favorite) but didn’t have any sugar skulls. I will leave some food and some wine out tonight.
This Day of the Dead was especially bittersweet because my uncle Joe passed on last weekend. Today (and every other day) I will remember him and the other loved ones that I’ve lost to time, illness, or accident.
If you’re curious to see how I would usually decorate a grave, this is what I did at Danae’s grave last year: