Growing up, my family was never big on traditions.
There were certain things that we would try and repeat every holiday — turkey on Thanksgiving and a tree on Christmas — but if they didn't happen, no one seemed disappointed or surprised. It was as if our traditions — the things that give our lives rhythm and meaning — came about by happenstance.
The same was true of Halloween.
Every year, we’d go to the store, pick out costumes and go trick-or-treating. I didn’t even get all that excited as a kid. I only remember being tired from walking and having to share my candy with my parents.
Turns out, I was really missing out.
Despite being Mexican-American, I didn’t learn about Día de los Muertos until I was in college. My family was too removed from traditions to try to make them our own. Día de los Muertos was a Mexican holiday and we were Americans.
But this famous holiday has had something of a popularity boost in the U.S. in recent years. Part of that is thanks to the 2017 Pixar movie “Coco,” which features much of the imagery and lore of Día de los Muertos.
For the uninitiated, the multi-day celebration, which happens the day after Halloween, is dedicated to the remembrance of deceased loved ones. It’s an affirmation of their lives and a declaration that death is nothing to fear.
When we share our traditions, we can shape the world into a richer place.
I first encountered Día de los Muertos in a continual reconnection with my Mexican and Indigenous heritage. Much of that is tied to becoming a mother. When we had our daughter, my husband and I decided that we wanted to be intentional about raising our children as bi-cultural as well as bi-racial. Celebrating Halloween and Día de los Muertos is an excellent opportunity to do both.
We’ve spent the last two Halloweens trick-or-treating with our Irish neighbors and enjoying the Irish dish colcannon and the American delicacy pigs in blanket (a.k.a. “Halloweenies”).
This year we’ll do the same, but with tamales, a few stories about our ancestors and maybe a song or two from “Coco.” We’ll build an ofrenda, a display with pictures and mementos of our departed loved ones. We’ll wear marigold crowns as we celebrate their memory because they are a part of our story and without them, we wouldn’t be who we are.
Sometimes our traditions are foreign to us, but we have the opportunity to make them our own. We can choose which elements we want to incorporate and pass on to our children. Our traditions shape us, and when we share them with those around us, we can shape the world into a richer place.