Death is a myth. Different cultures hold a very different view of death, which therefore leads to different death rituals and celebrations. In Western culture, death is often associated with feelings of fear and grief, with people crying for days if a loved one has passed away. However, in other parts of the world, the way death is handled could not be more different. In Mexico, for example, the passing away of a loved one goes hand in hand with a celebration of life. Read on if you want to learn more about Western and non-Western approaches to mortality, and some special rituals surrounding death in different cultures.
The UK: Remembrance Day (11th November)
The end of the First World War on 11 November 1918 brought an end to a period of bloodshed and turbulence on the European continent. On Remembrance Day, the British nation honours the thousands of people who sacrificed their lives to safeguard their motherland during the war. As a part of this ritual, people hold a Two Minute Silence to show their respect and thankfulness to the ones who passed away during the war, and they wear red poppies that symbolize Remembrance and hope.
Many other Western nations have similar death rituals to the UK. For example, Americans hold a moment of silence on 9/11, in order to remember the terrible atrocities from that day. In the US, as well as in the UK, people tend to wear black on occasions of remembering the dead, and the atmosphere is sorrowful. This is because the Western culture views death as something heavy and believes that those who have passed away should never fade into oblivion. Nevertheless, is that the only way to approach death?
Mexico: Day of the Dead (2nd November)
In Mexico, people approach death in a light-hearted and celebrating way. The celebration for the dead people takes place on the Día de los Muertos, also known as the Day of the Dead. During that day, the Mexican people create private altars for their loved ones that have passed away, and decorate them with orange marigold flowers. Also, the eating of the so-called ‘bread of the dead’, which is a type of bun decorated with bone-shaped pieces, is a ritual closely associated with the Dia de los Muertos. The atmosphere of the day is cheerful and light-hearted. For example, celebrators may bring up some anecdotes of the departed or share some funny stories. Mostly, the Day of the Dead is considered to be a way to celebrate the lives of the dead, and also life in general.
Other Hispanic cultures celebrate death in a similar way as the Mexicans do. The sentiment behind these celebrations is known as ‘death positivity’ – the idea that talking about death is positive for us as individuals and for society. According to this concept, open discussions about death will not only help us overcome fear of mortality, but also encourage us to live in the moment.
Concluding remarks: which is the right way to approach death?
Having read this article, you may wonder what death really means to us. Is it heavy and mournful? Or is it something liberating and cheerful? In Western culture, death often carries a negative connotation, and people feel uncomfortable with it. However, death is inevitable, so let us face it! Knowing alternative understandings of death can offer us more choices. We can learn from other cultures, and thereby change our own perception of death.
Is death necessarily the end of the world? Biologically speaking, yes. Your world is put to an end when your whole body stops functioning. However, at the spiritual level, death is whatever you perceive it as – it can be liberation or restart.