Lewis faculty member discusses El Día de los Muertos

Lewis faculty member discusses El Día de los Muertos

Published: November 9, 2009.

Dr. John Greenwood, professor of psychology at Lewis University, delivered an Oct. 29 presentation on El Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), a tradition rooted in Mexican culture. Greenwood emphasized from the beginning that El Día de los Muertos is a celebration of life, in the face of death. He began with an overview of death and the process of grieving, and then explained that celebrating El Día de los Muertos is a way of coping with loss.

Greenwood noted that death creates many emotions, such as anger, guilt, confusion and fear, and shared that many cultures believe in the continuity of life after death. He also suggested that the concept of the spirit and soul is comforting to people. According to Dr. Greenwood, the Mexican culture recognizes that life comes out of death. He said there is the belief that the spirit has power, and therefore it must be loved and respected.

Greenwood compared the way that different cultures deal with death. In America, people tend to grieve for a short period of time because long periods of grieving are seen as a weakness, he said. However, in parts of Mexico, the lives of those who have passed on are formally celebrated immediately through wakes and funerals, and then on an annual basis with El Día de los Muertos.

While discussing El Día de los Muertos, Greenwood acknowledged the significance of “showing respect to cultures different than your own” as they often times have developed more effective ways of handling situations.

Throughout his discussion, Greenwood spoke of many traditions done during El Día de los Muertos. One tradition is to eat small candy skulls made of sugar with the names of the deceased on the forehead. Another is to share stories that reflect the life of the entire person, which also brings the group closer. Candles and flowers are part of the celebrations, especially yellow marigolds, as yellow is symbolic of the sun.

His lecture was part of Lewis University’s Art of Memory series. The series is presented by the Lewis University History Center: Urban, Cultural and Catholic History of the Upper Midwest, which supports a biannual symposium. It is also a part of Lewis University’s Arts & Ideas Program, providing cultural and educational programming for students and the community.

A Catholic university sponsored by the De La Salle Christian Brothers, Lewis offers nearly 80 undergraduate majors and programs of study, accelerated degree completion options for working adults, various aviation programs and 22 graduate programs in nine fields. The 10th largest private, not-for-profit university in Illinois is being honored for the sixth consecutive year by The Princeton Review and U.S. News & World Report.

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