All over the world people celebrate the Day of the Dead and we were delighted to be able to partner Itzatna Arts and Coffin Works for our very own festival this year – Food for Thought.

Itzatna artists Alfredo and Sebas hail from the Yucatan in Mexico so it was truly authentic, and with Alfredo also being a chef, we put food at the heart of the celebration.

Planned for November 3, the event sold out in a few days so we decided to schedule a second Food for Thought a week later – it too sold out almost immediately. Which just goes to show that, as we at BrumYODO firmly believe, people love events which encourage open discussion around death and dying when those events are also engaging and fun.

Visitors were first treated to a tour of the Stamp Room at Coffin Works, the home of the Newman Brothers who produced coffin handles and other ornamentation for more than 100 years. Carrying battery-operated candles, the group stepped back in time to discover the fascinating history.

Back in the café, we were busy placing out the food, traditional fare for Day of the Dead including a chicken and pork pie which is baked in the earth – with vegan alternatives!

As the visitors enjoyed the specially prepared food, Sebas shared stories about Day of the Dead in Mexico and the Hanal Pixan (Food for the Souls) events Itzatna has staged in Birmingham. The group then took part in a short memorial ceremony at a specially created Ofrenda – a table laden with photos and artefacts in remembrance of loved ones. Lit with candles and featuring traditional foods and Day of the Dead skulls, it was a quiet moment for reflection and memory.

Then it was back into the café for conversation over traditional Mexican drinks and corn cake over which we discussed our responses to Day of the Dead and how we, in our different traditions, honour those who have died and prepare for our own deaths.

Among those conversations we were so pleased to hear people tell us how Food for Thought was prompting them to think about how to start conversations with their loved ones. Some talked about how they now planned to discuss practical matters such as wills and funerals while others explored how they might draw on Day of the Dead traditions to remember loved ones. Still others mentioned how they would like to be remembered or celebrated after they have died.

After years of organising BrumYODO activities, it was also so rewarding to hear how some visitors had attended our events in the past and felt encouraged to talk to their loved ones about their wishes around end of life.

Food for Thought brought together people of different ages, cultures and backgrounds who explained their traditions and experiences, sparking so many fascinating discussions.

By the end of the evening, people who had arrived as complete strangers were telling stories of friends and family they had loved who had died, sharing ways they had memorialised their loved ones and suggesting ways to broach what can sometimes feel like daunting conversations.

Together we celebrated Day of the Dead in a special way – coming together to learn about history and tradition, sharing food and drink, and joining in conversation.

We really enjoyed being part of our two Food for Thought events and we’d love to see you at the next – keep an eye on our events page for future collaborations and events.