Last night, I gave my Simon his favourite fruit: mango, nectarines, kiwi fruit, apples. I bought him a rather fine bottle of Tequila if he had wanted to have a toast with me. Last night, I spoke with him. My Simon was a wonderful, kind-hearted gentleman and I offered him food and conversation for Días de Muertos; or Day of the Dead.
Day of the Dead as it is known in English is something of a mistranslation; it’s not one day, but three. I was born and raised in the south-west of Mexico City in the suburb of Tlalpan and there we began celebration on October 31, the Catholic All Hallows Eve.
During this night we prepare the house to receive our honoured guests—those departed souls whom we love. There’s All Hallows (or All Saints) on November 1 followed by the biggest celebration, All Souls Day on November 2. This festival is so important in Mexico, it’s even a public holiday. Yesterday, I celebrated it at home on the New South Wales coast.
Today, November 3, is not observed by so many, but in my tradition from Tlalpan, it’s one more day where we remember all those souls who have no one to remember them. It is dedicated to the Hungry Spirits, and they receive and deserve the same joyous treatment as our loved ones, for one day our names will too be forgotten.
There are a few things in the offering, or ofrenda, for the dead that must be present, no matter what:
Water, a gift from the gods and giver of life.
Salt, an essential element for health.
Flowers, givers of beauty and a symbol of love and gratitude.
And last, but never least: candles. They light the spirits’ journey into the realm of the living and to find their way back into the otherworld.
You can add the loved one’s favourite fruit, sweets, tobacco, etc. to the ofrenda. The only limit is your imagination and budget.
I don’t want to forget him. So I nourish his memory.
My Simon died last year in August so I’ve had already had a small feast for him, but it wasn’t as elaborate as I would have liked. Last year, I had to travel to for treatment from my medical specialists. I’m living, as it turns out, with my own risk of being soon-forgotten – a life-threating, medical condition.
Back then all I could put in my ofrenda was water, salt, silk flowers and a bag of jelly snakes. Oh and some cigarettes; my Simon was a smoker. This year it has was a better and bigger ofrenda, and as I was setting it up I had a chance to talk to my dearly departed and reminisce about our good times. This year, I have made room to remember those others who have gone. My grandmother and a group of other loved ones found their way by candlelight to my home.
Last night I performed a wake to welcome all these souls and we dined and spoke together.
I talked to Simon about the wonderful times we had camping to the Royal National Park in Garie Beach and North Era Beach in southern Sydney. We would spend days there swimming, sleeping, reading and eating jelly snakes. We would spend nights staring at the millions of stars. He would tell me stories of silly things he did when growing up and I would tell him about the knowledge I have of my First Nation Peoples’ traditions.
I’d tell him the story of the rabbit on the moon, the story of how the Milky Way was created.
One story he always liked is related to the Días de Muertos. I told him of the Conquistadors who imposed Roman Catholic faith and forbade any worship of the old deities. But, the Indigenous people of the Americas always found ways to pass on knowledge hidden in codes.
For these people, particularly those who shared Nahuatl as their language, there were five Cardinal Points, each associated to a particular energy and colour. Today, these form part of a traditional ofrenda.
We all know north, south, east, and west, but then there’s also the centre. Anywhere you are, at any given point in time, you are in the centre of the universe. You can never be lost.
It has been over a year since Simon was lost, and although it is unspeakably painful to be without him, yesterday I recalled one afternoon when we were having mojitos and talking–we were probably over the limit–and he promised me we would be together until the end of his days.
And so it was. He was and remains my centre.
This year, the ofrenda has been a very positive experience for me. I feel like he is here. I feel that after all the tragedy the year has given me, I’m going to be okay.
Like my grandma whom I also remembered, I am a warrior.
Thanks to Simon, I have had the chance to survive, like a fighter, and experience a love that will always win.
Mariana Garvilch lives in Coffs Harbour, NSW. She is a painter and a (wonderful) writer.