All Souls Day across cultures

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By Chris Martin

One Fall Sunday, about four years ago, I passed a table on my way into Mass. On the table, carefully placed, were framed photos of men, women, children – people of all ages. One could see these photos had been selected and placed with love. On that day I came to understand that this time, All Souls Day, is a time to remember and honor those who have passed away. Nearby, in a book of remembrance, I wrote the name of my late brother and a grandchild.

November brings us two days of remembrance. The first, All Saints’ Day, is a formal Catholic Solemnity dedicated to the Saints of the Church. The second, All Souls Day, is a day set aside to remember those relatives and loved ones who have passed away. My understanding and appreciation for this day has grown as I learned about the customs and traditions of the Latino culture. This deepening understanding has brought me comfort as I remember my brother and others within my family.

The biggest day within the Latino culture is Nov 2nd “Día de los Muertos”, translated, Day of the Dead. This day, along with preparations for the day, are meant to bring closer the living and those who have passed. Preparation for Día de los Muertos often includes, creating a small altar or shrine within the home. The shrine can include photos, objects, and even favorite foods of the departed. Special items and music are part of the shrine, and intended to bring departed spirits to mind, and entice them to join the celebration. The shrine is meant to be beautiful, fun, and encourage the spirits to return and be ‘with us’. Marigolds, a traditional flower used to honor the dead, decorate the shrine.

Marigolds can also be found at gravesites. Cemeteries can be a busy place during the days prior as one cleans, paints, and prepares graves for the Fiesta on Nov 2nd. The gravesites often include foods, music, and stories (often humorous) about the departed. Churches and cemeteries offer a Mass to celebrate this special day.

Here in Phoenix, St. Mary’s Basilica in downtown Phoenix has sponsored (following Mass) a small Fiesta within the park located next to the Cathedral. Along with Latino foods and wares one can see displayed small shrines in honor of family members and loved ones. A few of these colorful shrines are displayed within the open trunk or rear door of vehicles parked nearby. Again, all of this to remember the departed and to encourage their spirits to be ‘with us’ at this time of the year.

For me, in my personal life, I have struggled with how to best remember and honor two close family members who died young. Now, within my own Church and from the broader Latino culture I have learned of ways to keep them ‘with me’ each and every year. This brings color, fun, and happiness to their memories. Who knows… perhaps all of us will have fun together on All Souls Day 2021.

Note: The writer wishes to thank fellow St. Elizabeth Seton parishioner and Spanish Teacher, Ms. Eva Paz, for introducing our class to these Latino traditions.

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