Hallowe’en. No. Día de los muertos. Si.
Here in Sinaloa, the State Department of Education nixed Halloween — no candy, no costumes, no ghost stories in the public schools. Despite its religious overtones, the customs and meaning of the Day of the Dead are considered part of the national heritage, and the the Department of Education decided schools can have activities this week in anticipation of the second of November, which will be a school holiday. Halloween, although widely celebrated, had no cultural value, according to the State. It’s perhaps the first “official” mention of what is becoming something of a unnoticed political and social movement here in Mexico.
Anti-Hallowe’en activity in the United States is something we usually associate with the political right wing, usually on the grounds that it is anti-Christian in some way, or a revival of “pagan” custom.
In Mexico, and in the Central American States that were once part of the Mexican Empire or of New Spain (the “no Halloween” logo at the left is from Honduras), the arguments against Hallowe’en celebrations are coming from both the left and the right. On the right, while some of the more conservative Catholic Church hierarchy, like the heresiarchs of evangelical sects north of the border — who seem unmoved by the sight of children begging, or selling candy — issue annual anathemas against those who would dress their little darlings as witches, ghosts, or Spider-man and send them forth to beg for candy for issuing an open invitation to… SATAN. Apparently, Old Scratch has a fashion code when it comes to possession. Either that or beggary is a mortal sin, the near occasion of which is best avoided by violating child labor laws. What’s ironic in all that is that by pushing Day of the Dead over Halloween, the Churchmen (the Mexican Catholic variety, not the Evangelical Gringos) is filled with uncomfortable reminders of Mexico’s indigenous, “pagan” past. It is, however, unlike Halloween, a time to reflect on the recently dead, and offer prayers for their souls. And, does, at least, fall within the Liturgical Calendar.
On the left, I suppose the argument might also be that Halloween is an open invitation to not just Satan, but “The Great Satan” … to use the inimitable terminology of a famous scary dead guy in a black cape … Ayatollah Khomeini.
Yeah, I know the Iranian cleric is kind of a weird reference to use (but isn’t Halloween an occasion for weirdness?). Then again, the Ayatollah was a leader (or the figurehead, anyway) of a movement that united anti-imperialists, nationalists, Marxists and traditionalists. Which is pretty much what the Mexican and Central American left see themselves as.
And, they see Halloween, not so much as a harmless children’s festival… or as an invitation to revel in disguised Satanic rituals … but as U.S. cultural imperialism… and an attempt — conscious or otherwise — to undermine traditional values, mores and activities with something more dependent on commercially-sponsored activity, meaning one that exacerbates class differences (rich kids get better costumes, and nobody wants home-made candy).
Day of the Dead, beyond its traditional Pre-Colombian customs (the food and liquor offered to the recently departed) and Catholic overlay (the day of celebration being moved from about the middle of August to the second of November to coincide with All Soul’s Day, and “Christianizing” the ancestral shrines as ofrendas) has a political dimension — something sometimes attempted at Halloween with masked Obamas and Romneys out to “scare” the grown-ups this year — but Day of the Dead has for at least the last two centuries.
With the turn of the last century’s great lithographer and cartoonist José Guadalupe Posada having defined the “look” of the traditional calvara as political and social satire, the modern “tradition” especially on the Left has been to mark the holiday by mocking not so much Death herself, but politicians “killing” some favored policy or program, or a policy or program that was “killed” or about to die, thanks to some politican. Displays that present Elba Esther Gordillo into a ghoulish schoolma’rm, or a mocking memorial to PEMEX (perhaps being sucked by foreign “vampires”) will be popular this year, along with skeletal Peña Nietos and dead Democracies.
And, perhaps more importantly, Halloween is — as so many in Mexico view the United States — seen as a holiday without a purpose. It doesn’t serve to mock Death, or to treat Death as a fact of life, but only to provide cheap thrills, and empty calories.