In America, it’s Halloween, which is a fun holiday for children. In Mexico, however, it is the beginning of Día de los Muertos, a much more adult and philosophical holiday. All throughout Mexico, people will gather not to eat candy but to celebrate and remember their friends and family who have died. It is, in a sense, a three day commemoration of the idea of memento mori—a kind of collective bereavement mixed with the fun of a jazz funeral.
The great Montaigne would tell of a story that had trickled back to him from the New World, of an ancient drinking game where the members took turns holding up a painting of a corpse inside a coffin and cheered “Drink and be merry for when you’re dead you will look like this.” This cheeky but also profound observation captures the spirit of Día de los Muertos quite well with imagery of skulls and skeletons, the makeup and the music and the dancing, the praying and the altars set up to honor those who have left.
It might seem strange to celebrate death in this way, and stranger still to involve children in it. But is it really that stranger than banishing any thought of death from our lives and letting it return to us only as a dreaded nightmare? There is real value in taking time to process and grieve and dance with the morbidity of our mortality, of creating a ritual that allows us to come to terms with this essential part of our existence. Better to be on good terms with death and to schedule an annual check up than to be surprised and shocked by this enemy we pretend doesn’t exist.
So drink and be merry today and celebrate the day of the dead. Say goodbye to the people you have lost and enjoy the people you are lucky enough to still have with you. That’s all we can do.
P.S. This email was sent on October 31, 2017. Sign up today for the Daily Stoic’s email and get our popular free 7-day course on Stoicism.
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