Halloween and Day of the Dead

Is it a coincidence that the pagan-based Halloween falls around the time of Mexico’s holiday Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead)? History says probably. Our Halloween is likely more closely connected to the Christian feast All Hallow’s Eve, and to pagan traditions from Celtic-speaking countries.

All Hallow's Eve

That Halloween has become a mainly commercial celebration (a time for children to gorge on treats full of refined sugar and artificial flavours/colours) is rather sad. I’m all for chocolate and candy (hey, I’ve already broken into our box of mini chocolate bars!), but I’m increasingly interested in ways that we can bring back a more traditional meaning to the day.

Westerners are notoriously fearful of death. Death is always tragic and heartbreaking. We feel at a loss when comforting friends and family – what’s the right thing to say? The fact that we’re no longer flocking to organized religion for guidance means that many of us feel spiritually deprived or unsure of our beliefs.

This issue hit me smack in the nose the other night when my daughter suddenly began discussing death (why do these conversations always happen right before bedtime?) She began getting very scared, and wondered what she would do if Mommy and Daddy died. I tried to answer her questions and calm her fears, but I felt inadequate.

Google “how to talk to your kids about death” and you’ll come up with thousands of articles. Most of the advice is good – state facts as simply as possible, and don’t make stuff up (e.g. “Grandma has gone to sleep.”) But rarely do I find articles that put a positive spin on death. On Dia de los Muertos, you might see skulls and skeletons, but people are not scared. In fact, they’re having fun! They dress in costumes, share food, create representations of skulls and skeletons, and give offerings to their departed loved ones.

I’m sure Mexicans who celebrate Dia de los Muertos still feel sad when family members or friends die. But instead of the usual hush-hush and gloom that surrounds the death, there is instead a celebration of life – and a strong belief that a loved one is in a good place.

So here are a few ideas on how to integrate death and dying into your Halloween celebrations – in a way that kids will understand and enjoy!

  • Check out Pinterest for some great Dia De Los Muertos craft ideas
  • Take your kids to see the movie The Book of Life – set on the Day of the Dead, I’m sure the film will provide a jumping off point for discussions about death
  • If you’re a parent interested in having an open and honest discussion about death, join the Death Cafe Ottawa! (next cafe night is November 5th)
  • If your kids are old enough, pay a visit to the grave or memorial of a loved one. Bring bunches of colourful flowers, and ask your kids to make an offering (see the craft ideas above)
  • Before heading out trick or treating on Halloween, prepare a yummy feast (doesn’t have to be Mexican food!) Take a moment for each person to say what they cherish about their life – death is also about life after all!

Do you celebrate Dia de las Muertos? 


What a Week (but Standing Strong)

It’s Friday – does anyone else feel totally exhausted today? Not your normal Friday afternoon exhausted, but emotionally exhausted.

This week has been a tough one for our beautiful city, and for the family and friends of those affected by the shooting. I cried for Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, as I also cried for the outpouring of love and strength that resulted from this tragic event.

Today our city honoured Cpl. Cirillo in a moving ceremony, as the Ceremonial Guard is reinstated at the National War Memorial. Although I wasn’t there, the support I witnessed through video and photos makes me exceedingly proud of our city and our country.

My children are too young to know what happened here this week. When they are old enough to understand, I hope they will listen to the stories about October 22nd.  And I hope they will feel a deep sense of respect for the people who have lost their lives in the battle against senseless violence.

Canada Strong and Free

Photo credit: Deborah Laplante

I hope Ottawans continue to tell their stories – continue to post pictures and words – for many years to come. As with all the wars in which we have fought, the honouring of lives lost may one day help to foster peace for the future.

Lest we forget

What does your community need?

Have you seen the #CBCStreetTalk team in your neighbourhood? Our local CBC Ottawa team has been busy visiting city wards to speak with residents about local issues (because unless you have your head buried in the sand, you’ll know that we have upcoming municipal elections on October 27th!)

ward 1

The question they’re asking is: What would make your neighbourhood a better place to live?

This got me thinking about ways I would like to improve my own neighbourhood. Choosing where to live in a city is a tough decision – many middle class families can’t afford the trendy and vibrant areas like Westboro, Hintonburg and the Glebe. And although I sometimes yearn to be closer to downtown, I do appreciate the big property and quiet that comes with suburban living.

But I want to have my cake and eat it too! How come I can’t live in a trendy suburban neighbourhood? Most of us in the older part of Orleans are within walking distance to St. Joseph – but the walkability of our ward is dismal. Who wants to walk around places when you could break your ankle on a broken sidewalk or get run over by a speeding car?

Those complaints aside, I love my neighbourhood and I can’t wait to see it flourish! So here’s my wish list for Orleans, Ward 1:

  •  A great local coffee shop within walking distance (bonus points if the coffee shop has a playroom for kiddies!)
  • A redesigned “Main Street” (St. Joseph) – making it pedestrian and cyclist friendly
  • More healthy, fabulous restaurants using local ingredients
  • A revival of the Ottawa Farmer’s Market, which seems to be dying a slow death in Orleans
  • Ottawa River Action Plan for the health of our river and Petrie Island!
  • More attention paid to the trail system in Queenswood Heights – the bridges which are being replaced have been chained off for over a year now. There was also a major landslide down there, and I’d love to hear how this will be cleaned up and future stability managed.
  • Future LRT (check out this fascinating idea about demolishing the Queensway!)
  • Promotion of cycling to downtown – I discovered this past year it only takes me 1 hour and 15 minutes to bike to work (if that seems crazy to you, it’s also possible to bike partway and bus partway). We need more education around safe cycling, and campaigns to get more people on their bikes!

So tell me, how would you make your neighbourhood a better place to live?