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The Day of the Dead: Celebrating Life While Honoring Those Who Have Passed

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AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images

Each season reminds us of the cycles of life. Spring brings birth, summer is filled with growth, fall is aging and harvest, while the cold of winter summons death. October's colorful leaves become crispy, Jack-O-Lanterns, costumes, masks and trick-or-treaters herald the coming of shorter days and colder nights. Day of The Dead is a tradition that has survived centuries and fits the season perfectly. Death can be very hard to cope with, and teaching children about death can be especially tough when we are unsettled about the topic ourselves. Grief, regret and loss of loved ones are perhaps some of the most uncomfortable emotions that we humans experience, yet these feelings are common to everyone. Native cultures around the world celebrate life through embracing death with ceremonies that allow for all of the feelings associated with passing to be expressed openly and supported by the larger community. The wisdom of this tradition is now being embraced in cities across the country.

Tucson, Arizona hosts one of the largest Day of The Dead events in North America called The All Souls Procession. This free event draws up to 50,000 people, all filling the streets with painted white-face honoring life and death in the most beautiful way. At The All Souls Procession, you will see elements from many cultures around the world infused with modern expressions that are similar to Mardi Gras and Burning Man, while embodying a traditional community celebration that spans generations and nationalities. Stilt-walkers, a giant burning urn, silk aerialists dangling from a crane four stories above the city, marching bands, parade floats, giant-puppets and children's activities are part of this yearly gathering. Even if you can't make the trip to The Sonoran Desert this fall, this year local organizers have created a way for you to get involved wherever you are.

The All Souls Loteria Book is available for The iPad and it colorfully shows the elements and characters that make up a community celebration of life and death. Also available is a book called Procession of Little Angels and this creative piece is wonderful for anyone interested in fun and creative ways to introduce children to the concept of death. How to make wings, paint your face, make lanterns and more are described with pictures and illustrations by All Souls Artistic Director, Nadia Hagen. Whether it is the loss of a goldfish, a relative or a football game, the ability to cope and move on is crucial to all of us, especially children.

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Increasingly in our modern world, we need to delve into our past in order to create contemporary expressions of community to help us weather the cycles of time. Religious, political and scientific ideas will always change and evolve, but the seasons will continue to unfold and humans are social beings with a need for community. Around the world there have always been festivals that bring people together, moments to set aside differences and bear witness to the commonalities of being human, being alive and sharing this precious life and planet. Day of The Dead accomplishes this by being all inclusive, and a whole lot of fun.

Light a candle, build an altar or make a lantern and take a moment to reflect on what has passed during the year. Allowing yourself to let go, to mourn and say goodbye will also bring transformation and rebirth. The dark half of the year is upon us in The Northern Hemisphere, the time to go inward and stay close to the fire is also gestation time for what is to come.

It is no coincidence that Samhain, Halloween, All Saints Day and Day of The Dead fall during this period known as The Celtic New Year. All life starts in the darkness of the womb. In the natural cycles of life, every end is a new beginning. There is an old story that tells how the Grim Reaper will chase you as long as you can run, but one day you will turn to face and make peace with the stalking shadow only to find that it is your guardian angel.

Take a moment to watch the video trailer for a documentary by Leslie A. Epperson about Tucson All Souls Procession called "Many Bones, One Heart." It shows how colorful, lively and meaningful this event is, and why so many are eager to share it with their loved ones. Learn more about The Procession of Little Angels Event for children, or share The All Souls Loteria and Procession of Little Angels Book with your family and help this wonderful event grow!