What the Day of the Dead means to me...
I have been volunteering with the Day of the Dead festival in Birmingham every year since 2005, the third year of its occurrence. I innocently joined my roommate for a workday one sunny fall weekend, not knowing how this festival and the lovely people who make it happen would change my life. I learned that there is a lot of potential in an empty asphalt lot and a few walls. I was not prepared for the deep love and commitment that the festival volunteers bring to their tasks, nor was I prepared for the raw and beautiful emotions I would share with countless strangers, all bravely willing to share their memories of those they had lost. This festival has brought me to tears so many times that I have lost count. I have been able to touch a lost stranger's favorite pack of cigarettes, held the collar of a cherished family dog that crossed the rainbow bridge, marveled at tiny baby booties for a life lost too soon. A few years ago, I lost a dear friend to a boating accident, and that year at the festival there was a altar for 'letters to heaven'. I sat, I wrote every memory of him in my heart at that moment, I cried and shook and showed my face to the sky so my friend would know that I was beaming all the love and loss I could up to his memory. . . and it was extremely healing for me. There is so much beauty and grace in the acceptance that we all will pass from this world, and so much comfort in knowing that we get to bear this burden together and see each other through it.
This festival also gives our city the opportunity to embrace our Hispanic brothers and sisters and honor their traditions, folding them into our own. It is a time to sing and dance, to pray and weep, to gaze upon immeasurable beauty. Bare Hands, Inc. also gives homeless and transient children a chance to create and shine each summer, through a sponsored art class at the Birmingham YWCA. Bare Hands, Inc. is the force that offers us our beautiful festival every November and a chance for children to experience hope, joy and creativity each summer during a time of struggle in their lives. After every mural painted, every altar decorated, every parade I've danced through, I am now extremely honored to be the vice-president of Bare Hands, Inc. and help our festival continue. I hope this festival means as much to you, so that we can continue to embellish our fair city everyNovember 2nd.
Día de los Muertos is, first of all, the city of Birmingham at its very best. On no other night of the year am I so proud to be part of this beautiful, wonderful place. Simply put, this festival brings out the best in us.
For me Día de los Muertos has become an essential piece of every year’s rhythm. Certainly it’s a lot of fun. But, much more than that, it’s a powerful, even transformative experience, a chance to reconnect with those who, physically, are no longer with us—but who are present nonetheless, with us and in us, in a million other ways. It’s a thanksgiving for the lives that even in death mean the world to us. It’s an opportunity, simultaneously, for public celebration and private contemplation, an invitation to reground ourselves and to honor the dead, to rejoice in life, and to remember and remember and remember. It is community and connection enacted, in beautiful living color, on the streets of Birmingham. I think it’s no exaggeration to say that the Day of the Dead has helped make me better at living.
Mary Lyn LaRussa
Our Day of the Dead Festival brings out the smoky, sweet flavor of our city. While it's definitely based on the centuries- old tradition of All Souls Day, but as Tracy Martin brilliantly conceived it, it's an art installation about who we are, who we love, and how we loved them. This event has come to be a time to say goodbye to those who've passed on, and a setting to make this the Birmingham we'd like to live in. And this festival, like the love that inspired it, becomes broader and deeper as it ages. I hope you'll share a little love with the Festival not only for November 2 but its community projects all year long.