Today is the final day of Día De Los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. Celebrated in Mexico and many other parts of the world, people gather together to remember and honor loved ones and ancestors who have died. The holiday is connected with the Roman Catholic holidays of All Saint’s Day and All Soul’s Day, as it occurs on November 1st and 2nd. The face-painting as skulls helps to overcome a fear of death as a natural part of the cycle of life.

About the image: Here, a woman dressed as La Calavera Catrina (“The Elegant Skull”) celebrates at a Dia De Los Muertos Festival in Los Angeles. (photo: Rob Sheridan/Flickr, cc by-nc-sa 2.0)

Share Your Reflection



2011 October 30
the Table
given at First Parish in Malden,Unitarian Universalist, Malden, Massachusetts
by the Rev. Joanne Giannino


anybody know what holiday we celebrate today? Yes, all souls/all
saints/Halloween/Day of the Dead, that’s right. What are some of your costumes
today? Any skeletons? Ghosts? Did you know that these holidays have their roots
in ancient human practices of remembering those who have died and celebrating
the sacred cycle of life? People, for all times, it seems have been curious,
even fearful, of death, and have found ways to honor it, acknowledge it, accept
it, and in the process honor and maintain the memory and gifts of their beloved
ones, those who become our ancestors, become our saints.


different cultures the time of year varies depending on their own traditions.
In our part of the world, we do our remembering in the fall. Can you think of
why? The leaves are falling, and dying, composting the earth, the trees going
to sleep, the flowers withering, animals hibernating; and we also know that in
the spring the trees come back to life: we seem then to understand (within
ourselves and the very cells of our own bodies) the cycle: death, life, again
and again.


several years after my father, Joe Giannino, died, in the autumn, I would offer
a Halloween dinner at my house. I would invite family members, my mother,
sister, her children, and my husband’s parents. My children and I would
decorate the house with all that nature offers at this time of year:


leaves dropping from the trees, returning to the earth, so that the tree could
sleep for the winter, and re-awaken in spring with new leaves


harvested from fields of plenty, carved with eyes and noses and lips, lit by a
candle’s glow


and skeletons, remnants of the old days when worshippers would play with death
as a way to acknowledge the cycle of life in which those they loved would die,
and even someday themselves


there would be flowers, autumn flowers that seem to arrive and thrive against
all odds, amidst the frosty mornings, and long dark nights: Marigolds,
Chrysanthemums, and Sedum.


would set the places for all who attended with our finest dish ware, cotton
napkins (not paper), candles, and one additional plate, for the guests who were
no longer with us: my dad, my mother’s mother and dad, my grandparents, my
husband’s grandmother, his mother’s mother, and his father’s parents. And we
would eat some of their favorite foods. One thing my Dad always enjoyed was a
pomegranate. He called them Italian apples and he taught us to take out all the
seeds, put them in a bowl, and eat them by the handful instead of one at a time!


did this to acknowledge that we were indeed missing them, these who loved us so
much, and whom we loved in return. We set a place for them because though they
had died, they were still very much with us. With us still because of the time
we had spent together. With us still because of what they had taught us. My Dad
taught me by his very presence not so much in words to enjoy life in simple
things: in getting a good deal on a pork chops at the market, in a day off from
work, in a morning fishing for bass at a favorite pond, and in spending time
with family on Saturday mornings and holidays. These were the ways he shared
his love of life and his love of us.



you remember, any of you, a favorite food of a loved one who is now passed
away…can you remember something that they taught you either in words or
actions, that has stayed with you even though the person is not physically
present? Something of their love for you?


we celebrate the day of All Souls and All Saints. We remember those who have
loved us and whom we have loved in return. Family, friends, church members,
neighbor all.


hope today you will take some time to remember those you have loved. To feel
their presence around you still. To remember the times you spent together. To remember
what they taught you. Perhaps to eat one of their favorite foods, or enjoy an
activity that he or she enjoyed. Mostly, recall in your heart the love that
surrounds you still and always. That love will always remain.


Our own communities in the US are so ill prepared for death and dying. Many Americans have not learned to embrace or accept death as part of the life cycle. In fear, we turn away from processing this final season and in the process, remain unable to fill the void of our lost loved one with joy, laughter and tears in a healing way.