Well, Halloween came and went. Children ventured out into the cold, dark streets to pursue life, liberty… and (free) candy. Although none visited my place (I live in a locked condo with no kiddies present)… I did wander my neighborhood to peruse the costumes. In addition to the traditional princesses, lions, vampires/zombies and ballerinas, I saw a lot of garden gnomes (cute!), elaborate Star Wars outfits (lots of Ewoks), Angry Birds and… mini-Katy Perry/Lady Gaga/Nikki Minajs. Okay. Tres appropriate for 4-6 year olds…
The slutty costumes are back in the closet now, and we can focus on… HOLY COW: It is November 1. (11/1/11… lots of ones… What will you be doing at 11:11?!?!??? If I’m lucky, I’ll have completed writing this blog post by then…) Where DID the year go? I feel like 2011 started yesterday! I can’t believe that I have to start thinking about traveling home, family, holiday gatherings… and Christmas presents. I suppose I can start putting up my Christmas lights up now. Ugh. Welcome to the Holiday Season. I’m SO not ready for it… The only saving grace is that I have not heard one Christmas Carol… yet.
Let’s talk about something else, okay? Something less depressing perhaps? Well, maybe not. For another national holiday came upon us today… for our Mexican neighbors to the South. Let’s talk about Día de los Muertos (The Day of the Dead). If you have never been exposed to this festival… brace yourselves. It is a rather macabre celebration… of well, the dead. Natch. The holiday brings together family and friends, who celebrate with and pray for those who have died. The fete takes place on November 1–2, coinciding with the Catholic holidays of All Saints’ Day (November 1) and All Souls’ Day (November 2). In most regions of Mexico, November 1 honors children and infants; whereas deceased adults are revered on November 2.
It is a 3,500 year old tradition, and can be traced back to Mexico’s indigenous cultures. During the holiday, the souls of ancestors return to join the living, in festivities that includes food and dancing. Traditions include building private altars at home honoring the deceased using sugar skulls, marigolds, and the favorite foods and beverages of the departed; and visiting graves with these items as gifts. Graves get tidied up and decorated elaborately with flowers and candles. Candy skulls are placed on the tombs and graves of loved ones along with funny poems about the dead. Dead kids get toys; adults receive tequila. Not too shabby, my friends!
During college, I traveled to Mexico to celebrate the Day of the Dead properly… on a school field trip. (I took a class on Death and Dying; since I went to school in San Antonio, TX field trips (and fun trips) to Mexico were plentiful.) The first impression of the Day of the Dead: skulls and skeletons were EVERYWHERE! Dressed up wooden and plastic skeletons are posed at every single porch and balcony. Skull candy and baked treats shaped like twisted bones were offered by passerby. And out of respect, we HAD to eat everything! But oddly, all of the scenes of death wasn’t scary or creepy. It was quite beautiful and awe-inspiring actually… In celebrating their long-lost friends and ancestors, death somehow becomes peaceful and serene; not as jarring, unexpected and upsetting. And isn’t it a nice sentiment to remember the passing of your loved ones formally once a year, and gorge yourself in food and drink in their memory???
In the American culture, death is treated as denial. Whereas many other cultures (including those south of the border) view death as a natural progression in the cycle of life among generations, Americans prefer not to even “talk” about death. Instead, we use euphemisms like “passed on,” “passed away” or even just “passed.” We do not publicly have to look at death for the most part… actually, we go out of our way to sanitize death through embalming and (lots of) makeup. We do not view dead bodies, particularly grossly disfigured ones, on television or in public. (The internet is changing that though.) Death isn’t pretty. But hiding the inevitable doesn’t do us any favors either.
We are all going to f*-ing die one day. I hope for all of us that we will die peacefully after leading a long, fulfilling life. And when I eventually become worm food, I think I would like my future family to celebrate me… or the idea of me. Even if they don’t remember me anymore. So you go on with your bad selves, Dia de Los Muertos.