As the proud owners of Newman Brothers Coffin Fitting Works we are exploring the changing attitudes towards death through history. For the Victorians, funerals were lavish affairs, and you saved up your pennies to ensure your coffin was decorated with the best fittings or furniture that your budget allowed – what you were buried in was a sign of your wealth and status.
The decline of the coffin fitting business is clearly indicative of the changing attitude towards death in British society – but what about the global attitude?
One of our new volunteers, Marisela, has a whole different take on death. Yesterday she celebrated the Mexican festival – Dia de Muertos – and I asked her to share this with us:
The day of the dead is a Mexican tradition which celebrates the lives of our ancestors who have died.
All across Mexico, families gather together to remember their loved ones and celebrate their lives by cooking their favourite food and drink.
It is not unusual to see people having picnics or spending the night by their loved one’s grave sharing food, drinks, funny anecdotes of those who have died and perhaps even do a little dancing and singing with the many musicians in the cemetery playing tunes for the souls of the departed.
As Mexicans, we do not fear death. We know that one day we will die and finally meet our Catrina (Lady of the Death) who will guide us in our spiritual journey. We recognize death and embrace it by making fun of it. We dress up Catrinas in colourful dresses. We write poems to mock her arrival called “Calaveritas”.
We install altars in our houses with food offerings, marigold flowers, candles, drinks and special sweet bread called “Pan de Muerto” (bread of the death). We invite our departed to visit us, to eat the food that we have cooked specially for them, to have a drink, to get some rest in our houses and listen to us talking about them, remembering when they were alive. We also pray for them to have a safe journey.
The day of the dead is a celebration of life of those who have died and their contribution to those who are still alive, waiting to meet our Catrina.
As we say in Mexico – “Comamos y bebamos que pronto moriremos”! (Let’s eat and let’s drink we’ll soon be dead!)
Lady of the Death arrived to Newman Brothers
looking for fittings for her own coffin,
little did she know that the factory had closed,
and that Birmingham Conservation Trust runs
candle light tours with a hot chocolate promise.
She enjoyed listening the history of the building,
walking along the corridors in the dark cold night,
looking for the next person that she will guide
to the land of the death.
Watch it Suzanne that Lady of the Death is there
If you are quiet you can hear her walking around
making strange noises and laughing if she
makes you jump!