This insightful little book begins with an author’s note on the topic of cultural appropriation, which means using another’s cultural traditions for selfish purposes. Talking about the Day of the Dead and appropriating some of its rituals has become increasingly popular among people who know little or nothing about it. Wisely, the author begins by cautioning readers to consider carefully their intentions, such as:
“For example, if you are planning to set up a Day of the Dead altar, is this because you only want to post a picture to your social media or because you genuinely would like to honor your dead loved ones and ancestors?” Chapter 3 then covers setting up and using a Day of the Dead altar in your home.
Gironés also suggests that readers try to connect locally with others: “Do you treat Mexican culture and the Day of the Dead with respect, and at the same time, do you treat Mexicans and Latin Americans with respect? For example, if there is a Mexican or Latino community in your area, it might be a good idea to first check if they have any activities open to the general public for Dia de los Muertos.” Chapter 4 is then all about celebrating the Day of the Dead, using your altar.
Marking the Day of the Dead is an inspired way of celebrating loved ones who have passed away. Llewellyn’s Little Book of The Day of the Dead takes seriously this aspect of the spirit world. It is about more than celebrating a holiday or holidays — there are many special days throughout the year for marking these rituals and observances. The book will also inspire you to reevaluate your own relationship with death, to enhance living.
Given the Indigenous Mexican origin of these observances, the book is filled with Spanish words and phrases. Gironés does a good job of defining these in English, writing in a way that is easily understood by those who are new to the subject.
Modern representations of death, familiar in Indigenous Mexican traditions, are introduced. You meet La Llorona, “The Weeping Woman,” who appears periodically on the streets of Mexico City looking for her children; and more famously, La Santa Muerte, the Mexican folk saint of death. She is a saint who protects people devoted to her and seeks justice in their lives.
But the central feature of the book are 23 activities and exercises. Many of them incorporate the use of candles, flowers, drawings, and other means of creative expression. A partial list of the activities and exercises in the book includes “naming” and “drawing” death, creating a family tree, making paper marigold flowers, collecting pictures of ancestors, making gratitude lists dedicated to ancestors, baking Pan de Meurto (sweet “Dead Bread”), Catrina face painting, and writing a literary Calavera — a satirical poem to death (see the excerpt accompanying this review for this last one).