Pumpkin carved?  Nope.

House decorated? Oops, forgot that too. 

Candy bowl loaded and ready? Yes!

I reluctantly confess that I’m not as clever or elaborate with my Halloween decorations as I was when my three children were growing up.  Yet, somehow I still manage to remember to buy a bag of candy for the trick-or-treaters in my neighborhood.  But who am I kidding?  There hasn’t been one child to knock on my door in the last five years!  We all know who is really eating all that candy...

Halloween marks the beginning of the season of family gatherings — Thanksgiving will be here before we know it and Christmas, well, it has already arrived at the major retailers! These are times that families gather to create memories.

Memories... how important they are to help us through both good and bad times.  We--each of us--are the caretakers of our memories.  Will we hoard them in dark recesses of our minds? Or will we dust them off and share them with loved ones?  One holiday that celebrates memories, and is often overlooked or misunderstood, is Day of the Dead.  Widely recognized in Mexico and Latin American countries, this is an annual celebration to remember loved ones who have passed and is observed on November 1st and 2nd, concurrently with All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day.  I was raised Catholic, so All Saints’ Day has always been a meaningful holiday.  In the United States, All Hallow's Eve...Halloween...is the big party day we all celebrate.

A few years ago, when I wrote The Butterfly’sDaughter, I learned more about the meaning and traditions of the Day of the Dead in the Mexican culture.  It includes building private altars called ofrendas decorated with bright orange marigolds called cempasùchil (or ‘flower of the dead’) to honor their beloved departed.  These ofrendas can include favorite items of their loved ones—foods, drinks, photos, and other special possessions.  

I love this tradition of remembering and honoring those special family members who have passed.  Also, in Mexico they believe that the thousands of monarch butterflies flying through the region to their winter sanctuary in the mountains this time of year are the souls of their dearly departed. The traditions and the magnificent migration of the monarch butterfly that culminate during the Day the Dead festivities are captured in The Butterfly’s Daughter. 

 I like to create a simple ofrenda in honor of my parents and my father-in-law.  I put their photos up amid bright orange marigolds, a decorated skull plus a few items that they loved and each time I pass it during the day I think of them.  Again, memories...  This, to me, is the power of The Day of the Dead.  We remember and talk about those who've departed, and by doing so, we keep their memories alive in our hearts.

This Halloween, rather than just dress up and eat candy, why not share a meaningful activity with your family?  Create an ofrenda.  Get the kids involved. Display favorite photos and treasured items of those special family members, light a candle and then invite the family together to hear stories oyour grandmother, grandfather, parents, uncles, aunts.  The poignant stories, the funny ones--they all keep their memories alive!  These are the real treats of this season.  

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All the best,
Mary Alice