By Rick Mikula (November 2018)
Happy Día de los Muertos everyone! I would have gotten you a card but the store had sold out of them. Holy Mole’ how time flies! It seems as if it was just Cinco de Mayo and we were prepping the Monarch Migration Station for the upcoming season and now the MMS is packed away for the winter. But what a great season it was, the best in years.
It may seem ironic to wish someone a happy Day of the Dead but it is actually a joyous festival and not meant to be sad at all. Día de los Muertos is a tradition that dates back nearly 3,000 years and takes place from midnight October 31 and lasts until November 2. During this time it is believed that the spirits of deceased family members are able to reunite with their living relatives. November 1st is dedicated to "los innocentes," or the souls of deceased children and November 2 is as the day when the adult souls are able to return to the living world. But the most amazing part is that is when the Monarchs return to their ancestral home as well.
The celebration originally began as a month long Aztec festival that occurred during the ninth month of the their solar calendar. The Aztec believed that any warrior that was killed in battle became part of the happy dead and were reincarnated as butterflies. Butterflies in general were very highly revered by the Aztecs and they played a large part in their history. It was the Spanish conquistadors that moved decided to move the holiday to coincide with All Saints Day. Little did they know how it would play with the returning Monarchs.
Flowers are a major part of Día de los Muertos celebrations, decorating altars and tombstones with bright colors and strong odors meant to guide the spirits to the ofrendas. The ofrenda or alter is a tradition in Mexico and can be made by using a table, mantle, or even a book shelf. Every altar has a cross that is set next to the image of the dead person who is being honored. A small salt cross in the altar is meant to purify the spirits; an ash cross is set to help the spirits to get out of the Purgatory. The cross is set in the highest part of the altar and symbolizes the entrance to the world of the dead. It usually is decorated with yellow marigold, the symbol of death, also known as cempasuchil. Each ofrenda will also include Water candles, food, and paper banners to help in guiding the spirit on their journey home. A special part of any offering are the Sugar Skulls. They are such an important part of the celebration that candy maker begin to make them six months in advance. If an Adult is being remembered the altar may also include a small jar of tequila, cerveza, or other alcoholic drink that the deceased once enjoyed. After all it is a party!
For many of us the most important part is the return of the Monarch butterflies and this year looks good.
Recently Chip Taylor, professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Kansas, wrote in the blog “It’s been more than a few years since we have seen a monarch migration as promising as the one that is taking place,” And reports from around the country seemed to back up his statement. The reports from Cape May, New Jersey stated that although they came through a bit later then previous years their numbers were up. Jane Breckenridge, a friend of mine, is the owner of the Euchee Butterfly Farm in Bixby Oklahoma. Nestled between the Arkansas River and the Concharty Mountain it is also a major flyway for migrating monarch butterflies. Jane also said that this year’s numbers are very encouraging for a very good over wintering population.
California monarch lovers do not need to travel to Mexico to enjoy the over wintering phenomena because there are several sites right inside your state. Pacific Grove is the best known of all and it has one of the largest monarch overwintering sites in the United States that is open for public viewing. For information check out https://www.pgmuseum.org/monarch-viewing/#wheresanctuary. For information on 25 other California sites please visit https://www.monarchwatch.org/download/pdf/where.pdf
While we won’t know for sure how the final count will turn out let’s all keep our tarsi crossed that will be a banner year for our winged crusaders. Since there has been an upswing these past few years let’s hope that it continues into the next one as well.
Happy Día de los Muertos!
This entry was posted on November 1, 2018.