Mexican culture has a massive influence here in California and Dia De Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebrated on 1st November, is a hugely important Mexican holiday. It's quite alien to the European mindset: whilst the Victorians were obsessed by, even celebrated, death in art and culture, the trend over the last 100 years or so has been to shove it to the edges of our consciousness, to make it perhaps, the last taboo, something whose eye we avoid catching in the hope that it will not notice us and somehow pass us by.
I've been discovering that a central part of Dia de Los Muertos is to create an Ofrenda - a kind of alter dedicated to the departed, with skulls and skeletons, photographs and offerings. A gloriously vibrant confection which celebrates life as much as death. I noticed that older children had written letters to departed loved ones - people, pets, grandparents they had never met and stuck them up on the side of the Ofrenda, and that seems so healthy - so much more positive than simply pretending those loses have never happened.
My son's school makes one each year and has created what I think is a beautiful tradition. The flowers used to deck the school Ofrenda are what in Europe are called African Marigolds - though they are native to Central America where they are called Zempoalxochitl. The seeds are planted each spring by the First Grade, who then, as Second Graders, harvest them in the autumn and bring them to the Ofrenda. Some of the flowers are left to seed and the Second Graders who grew them harvest the seeds, package them in hand-decorated envelopes and present them to the current First Graders, who in turn plant them in the Spring so that when they return as Second Graders in Fall, they can harvest them and pass them along. This has been continued at the school for the last thirteen years and it touches me deeply. Such young children learning a simple yet profound truth about the cycle of life and death.