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.
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 got worked up, 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 know 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?