Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Halloween vs Day of the Dead

Halloween originated as a pagan festival among the Celts of Ireland and Great Britain. But many European cultural traditions hold that Halloween is one of the times of the year when spirits can make contact with the physical world and when magic is most potent. Immigrants from the old world brought some of these traditions to North America in the 19th century and it has evolved to a time of costumed ghosts, goblins, Darth Vader, cowboy, or whatever you want to be. Until recently it was a time for children to collect candy or maybe do a little mischief but now it is a festival for adults too. It is a part of American Pop Culture that is getting exported.
The Day of the Dead is an ancient Aztec celebration in memory of deceased ancestors. Somehow this ancient custom has been tied to November 1 (All Saints' Day) and November 2 (All Souls' Day.) Mexicans celebrate this time joyfully with flowers and food and with an emphasis on remembering and honoring the lives of the deceased, and celebrating the continuation of life.

Over the last 6 or 7 years we have seen a gradual increase in Jack-o-lanterns and witches on broomsticks at WalMart and in the Mexican markets. And we were getting more and more kids coming to the door to "Trick or Treat." We didn't make it to Walmart before Halloween this year but locally things were different. There has been a greater emphasis in the schools, churches and on the radio to remind people that Day of the Dead, not Halloween, is the Mexican tradition. This year only two groups came to the door for candy and in the Jardin, where for the last couple of years I have photographed the children in costume and out for trick or treats, there were a lot fewer children.

I've also been photographing in the cemetery for several years and the number of people who are going there to clean the graves, paint the crosses and put out flowers has increased substantially. Certainly you can tell by the crowds going into the cemetery but the flowers on the graves are an overwhelming blanket of color and fragrance. The arrangements are not the standard bouquets and sprays that you see in the USA but each family buys and brings what they can. They arrange the flowers in vases or tin cans, they make designs with colored sawdust or flower petals. To me it seems that each grave is personal folkart. Up until last year I did not see a priest in the cemetery except for a mass. Now I'm seeing them with families at the graveside saying prayers. Up until last year I had not seen bands or small trios at the graveside playing music.....not funeral music but lively music.....probably the favorite songs of the deceased. Up until last year I had not seen people bringing folding chairs to stay for the day although in some other parts of Mexico the relatives spend the night at the graveside. Up until last year I had not seen many candles left burning at sunset but I'm seeing more and more of them.

I'm thinking that I'd like for my kids to adopt the Mexican Day of the Dead rituals after we are gone. Make a home altar with pictures, put out our favorite foods and drinks, a lot of flowers, have some lively music, and laugh and have a good time this one day of the year remembering the old folks. And who knows, we might just join them in spirit.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I did not allow my kids to participate in Halloween back home in USA and frowned upon it being here in Mexico. At the school here, in Mexcio, ALL the kids dressed up for the full day of festiviites at the school. What o what was I going to do? Even I was required to dress up (teachers had to be involved). I don't approve of witches and decided to do what we usually do back home...dress up as a saint. Chloe and Olivia were the only ones in colors other from black. The only ones without dripping blood or paled faces. Kids teased Chloe saying she didn't "know how to do Halloween because she didn't dress up as something Scary" But she told them that Halloween back home was dying and only here did they think it was cool anymore. LOL. Dressing up scary is old news she told them.

I LOVE the Day of the Dead tradition and will only focus on it. We had a great time with family, making the altar and discussing of our deceased family. It was a meaningful holiday. Oh, and the trick or treaters here.....how about they kept coming for 3 days!!!! The same kids! ugh!