When asked, Ivan Gracia Rivera is happy to talk about a tradition that has been of great importance in his life, one that has kept his ancestors alive.
Originally from Mexico, Gracia Rivera speaks of Day of the Dead, which is actually several days, not just one.
Although Día de los Muertos (in Spanish) is celebrated on Nov. 2, he said offerings can be put on an altar (or ofrenda) five to seven days beforehand. Traditions may vary, but he said certain days are to remember people who have died in certain ways. One day is for people who have died in an accident, one for sickness, another day for children who have passed away.
At Cantina Vallarta, his restaurant in Salmon Arm, a brightly decorated ofrenda sits with photos of people who have passed away, along with food, drinks, candles, flowers, sugar skulls, pictures and more.
He said with the photo of a family member or friend who passed away, you put their favourite food or drink and whatever they used to like to do.
His grandma died this year.
“She did an amazing job when she was alive, raising six kids, working really hard, teaching everybody how to cook and do things as a family,” he recounted.
Every weekend he and his family would go over and spend time with her. He said she loved Coca Cola, so a can or bottle will go on the altar the night before Day of the Dead.
Other things that can be considered important on the ofrenda are water, salt, copal (tree resin) and incense, and bread. Everything can be cleaned up and put away on Nov. 3.
The tradition is a celebration, a time of sharing memories, being grateful for having spent time with that person, said Gracia.
“When my dad was 21, he lost his dad. Everybody talked about him. He was a very good musician, he used to play a lot of sports, he liked a lot of tequila…”
Although Gracia Rivera never met his grandfather, the man was always present in his life through Day of the Dead celebrations. He heard the memories from his aunties and uncles, as well as his dad.
“It is very important, a way to show your kids if you had great parents or a great childhood, and you want to share with them what happened with it. It’s very important for people who you want to remember. It’s not just one night, it’s kind of the entire week.”
He said it helps keep the connection with people who have died.
“I remember growing up, one of my uncles, the oldest brother of my mom, he passed away when I was six. I think three or four years after, he came to visit in my dreams. He talked to me, he knew what was going on in our lives. I don’t know if people believe or not, but you used to have connections with people you lost, everybody believed in it so it would happen…
“Somehow we were connected.”
Gracia Rivera said he thinks the Day of the Dead tradition comes from the Aztecs.
“This is way before the Spanish people came to Mexico. The Aztecs used to celebrate the sun, the moon… They honoured the death… They took the body away but not the memories they had of them.”
He said in Mexico, people decorate with flowers. They call the orange and yellow marigolds ‘the death flower.’
People normally sprinkle the flower petals from the door to the offerings, he said.
“So your family member who is visiting finds a way to get to the offering and to get out. It’s very important for tradition in Mexico. They find the way, take whatever you put and go back to wherever they belong.”
Gracia Rivera said the main thing about Day of the Dead is remembering a family member. To show everybody you have not forgotten about them.
“It’s still in your heart or mind; that’s why we remember. It’s good because you remember all the good things. It doesn’t matter what happens, you should remember the good things – not just the passing, not just the mistakes everybody did. It doesn’t matter with sickness, what matters is that the memory is with you.
“For me, it’s important.”
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