Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is a colorful festival celebrating the living. In the United States and in Mexico's larger cities, families build altars in their homes, dedicating them to the dead. They surround these altars with flowers, food and pictures of the deceased. They light candles and place them next to the altar. The Aztecs and other Meso-American civilizations kept skulls as trophies and displayed them during the ritual. The skulls were used to symbolize death and rebirth. The Aztecs and other Meso-American civilizations believed that the dead came back to visit during the month long ritual. The natives viewed it as the continuation of life. Instead of fearing death, they embraced it. To them, life was a dream and only in death did they become truly awake. The ritual has evolved to include other cultures like Native Americans and African Americans doing their own dances. This was my third year celebrating this event. Each year Hollywood Forever Cemetery comes alive (4p-11p) with live music, traditional dancing (of the Latin diaspora) and thousands of people dressed in costumes and painted faces, honoring death. I took a fascinating walk through the cemetery viewing beautifully decorated alters. Some people stood by the alters and shared their stories of the person they were honoring. Inside the mausoleum were breathe taking art exhibits as well.
It seems as if The culture that I am used to is always anticipating death or "the end." It's scary and depressing. Like my grandmother stated in her autobiography, "Christians always tell you how to prepare for death but they don't tell you how to live." She is still 100% Christian and always will be. I don't think her intentions by any means were meant negatively. However, there comes a point in everyone's life when one comes to self awareness through life's twists and turns, no matter what you believe in. For some reason Dia de Los Muertos surfaced feelings that made me think of how culture and tradition shapes our perception on death and the dying.
According to Christians, the Rapture is "the end" when born-again Christians will meet Christ. Many believe that this will happen unexpectedly, and people will suddenly rise into the sky. At some point after the Rapture, Christ will begin a thousand-year reign. According to Matthew 24, Jesus will come in glory and will send out his angels to gather his chosen ones from the four corners of the world. The Apocalypse describes these events in a series of visions: Some bright and positive, relating to the fulfillment of God's justice and the salvation of His chosen ones; and some dark and negative, relating to the terrible plagues that will come on earth for the sins of mankind. We tend to emphasize the dark and negative side, seeing the increase of evil around us; but that comes from our lack of courage and worldliness.
Personally, I think God put religion on the earth just to see how far we would stray from the true meaning of world compassion and tolerance of others. Some people miss the entire point. All religions basically have one theme: Universal love. Love the next person as you would love yourself. Do the best you can with what you are given, without hurting anyone.
When people who follow religion tell me to separate, discriminate, and hate others, I have a problem. When I hear people who follow religion tell someone they will go to hell because their beliefs are different from theirs, I have a problem. When people that don't know me tell me I am going to hell, I have a problem. I believe that God wants YOU to read between the lines and you don't get that fully just from reading the "holy" book or adapting to what people tell you. Someone once said, Religion is someone else's experience, spirituality is your own. The relationship that you choose to have with God (or whatever higher power) is very personal and you should not have to prove that to anyone. Be aware of trickery and hypocrites. You can take that anyway you want. In the beginning, middle and end, I'll use my common sense. I am not afraid of death, although the mysteriousness of it all intrigues me.
I say "people who follow religion" because the fact is, I have nothing against religion its self. I know that Dia les Muertos is not a religion but for some reason it got me thinking about how people view death. Last weekend I celebrated death at cemetery and I did not feel sad, depressed or spooked out. It was a celebration of the circle of life. I recommend that all people come out of their comfort zone and experience something entirely different without passing judgement.