Camping for Dia de los Muertos?

Sometimes, the “Otherworld” opens up to change your life forever, for real.

“You’re taking children to the woods on The Day of the Dead and building altars for the deceased–and camping? Are you insane?”

Yeah well, I’m a writer. Luckily, my musical husband and I have a few magical, equally insane friends. We met for a few years in a row on a woody farm in central Texas.  What would we do?  Well there was nothing horrible or evil about it.  In fact this trip was a deeply spiritual, family-oriented event.

The Day of the Dead, despite recent incarnations, is actually an event that celebrates the lives of deceased family and friends.

It is believed that the spirits of the dead visit the Earth on November 1st.  Families build altars to show them they are remembered.  People wear masks to hide from spirits they don’t wish to see again.  It IS based in a Pagan tradition, but was adapted quickly when early Christianity came to Central America.  Either way, as Unitarians we enjoy this more spiritual, family-centered addition to the usual Halloween scene.

Our celebration was rather simple really.  Each family prepared in a few steps:

Thanks to Henk Schloten for the image. All rights reserved. Click the image for his Flickr page of magnificent nature photography.

1) We built simple altars in memory of people who had passed away the previous year.

We normally used a chair or folding table with photos and a few items to represent memories of the deceased. Then we put candles around it.  Most families in our group chose not to use the normal skeletal images because of the smaller children.  If we did it today, I’m certain they would be popular with teens.

2) We wrote very short tales to tell about the people we lost.

Some people did a song or a poem, others a story.  We kept them short, light and kid-appropriate, but a teensy bit scary was fine.  Remember, we were CAMPING overnight with kids.

3) The kids made Waldorf-style lanterns, with some help.

Ours were usually crafted from oatmeal boxes or heavy art paper, with colored wax paper images in the windows. We lined the entire inside with clear wax paper before adding a tea-light candle.  Some of our craftier Waldorf friends made punched tin lanterns or elaborate gourd lanterns.

The Riveras making dragon bread

Thanks, kids!

3) Each family prepared a special treat for the kids (or by them).

Since this was a small event, most families brought homemade treats like Day-of-the-Dead Bread, muffins or caramel corn.  Linda’s were ALWAYS the best treats ,,, except maybe one year when Jane brought some special bread.  I enjoyed the fact that nobody brought pre-packaged candy.  Normally the least organized camper, I tended to bring the s’mores.  Kids love s’mores.

4) We packed for a night in the woods.

This was by far the most complicated part of the preparation.  Camping with kids requires special supplies.  On a dark night with stories of dead people, we had to bring like every special childrens’ item that would preserve the calm..  One of the dads brought a grill and campfire gear every year.  Thank you, Crayden.

The kids paraded from altar to altar, gaining not only homemade treats, but also family wisdom.

Then we cooked out and sang songs by the campfire until we heard the coyotes howling back at us.  I don’t know for certain whether the spirits of the dead were walking amongst us, but I do know we felt a strong Spirit on that night, the spirit of community.

Note: This post is part of the Absolute Write Water Cooler’s October Blog Tour. Here are some other great posts on the subject of Otherworldly.’

Participants and posts:
Ralph Pines: http://ralfast.wordpress.com (post link here)
randi.lee: http://emotionalnovel.blogspot.com (post link here)
Aranenvo: http://www.simonpclark.com (post link here)
pyrosama: http://matrix-hole.blogspot.com (post link here)
hilaryjacques: http://hillaryjacques.blogspot.com (post link here)
meowzbark: http://erlessard.wordpress.com (post link here)
slcboston: http://fleasof1000camels.blogspot.com (post link here)
areteus: http://lurkingmusings.wordpress.com (post link here)
dolores haze: http://dianedooley.wordpress.com (post link here)
SuzanneSeese: http://viewofsue.blogspot.com (post link here)
Orion mk3: http://nonexistentbooks.wordpress.com (post link here)
Linda Adams: http://garridon.wordpress.com (post link here)
Alynza: http://www.alynzasmith.blogspot.com (post link here)
BBBurke: http://awritersprogression.blogspot.com (post link here)
Damina Rucci: http://thegraypen.wordpress.com (post link here)
CJMichaels: http://christinajmichaels.blogspot.com (post link here)
wonderactivist: https://luciesmoker.wordpress.com (post link here)
Lady Cat: http://carolsrandomness.blogspot.ca (post link here)
xcomplex: http://arielemerald.blogspot.com (post link here)
debranneelliot: http://www.debragrayelliott.blogspot.com (post link here)

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15 thoughts on “Camping for Dia de los Muertos?

  1. Thanks, y’all. I know. I just HAD to be different…but when he said “Otherworldly,” this was what came to mind. Seasonal too. I appreciate your comments! SRH, I’ll think about the title.

  2. Family camping! I miss being in Japan. This post brought back so many memories of my friends in the Land of the Rising Sun. We used to get our families together and camp on Miajima Island and at night we’d tell ghost stories to the kids. Lots of fun!

    Great post!

  3. Sounds neat! I’ve always thought the non-zombie-film Day of the Dead was neat, largely thanks to the positive and lasting impression of “Grim Fandango.”

  4. I knew absolutely nothing about Day of the Dead until I moved to Arizona. Now, I’m obsessed. I have skulls and Day of the Dead artwork all over my house. I think the holiday is an amazing tradition. Thanks for your blog post–spreading the word to people who don’t know how cool this day really is and how it reminds us to honor and remember those who have gone before.

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