Our confused expats
I am sure these cute tykes had a wonderful time at their HALLOWE’EN party, but they obviously were not part of any DÍA DE LOS MUERTOS celebration that I’ve ever seen or experienced. The first started as a Celtic end-of-summer festival, and while somehow connected to witches and goblins, and … later to disguises and tricks, Día de los muertos is rooted in Indigenous American custom, overlaid with Spanish Catholicism. While I’m perfectly aware that customs cross-fertilize, and that the two quasi-holidays coincide (thanks to moving the mesoamerican holiday to a date that fits the liturgical calendar) confusing them seems an act of cultural imperialism.
While Día de los muertos, despite the recent innovation of costuming (although, the mesoamericans did have special outfits worn to imitate the dead), Halloween — in its modern, US version — has more to do with Carnival than anything else in our traditions… what with the fantasy costumes and the rationale to eat, drink, and be merry (or… in some neighorhoods, Mary).
If one dresses for Halloween, the ideal is to come up with something individualized, whereas those who dress for Día de los muertos costume themselves for a communal ritual. As a group, whether the family, the parish, the community, we are coming together to express less grief as acknowledgement that, as humans, we will die and it is nothing to fear not to be frightened by. Oppose that to the U.S. holiday, which — for adults at any rate — is all about fright and fear of death. Or denial of death… witness the popularity of zombies and vampires at Halloween.
I hope the tykes in the facebook post above had a wonderful time. Perhaps they had some life-lessons in … what exactly? To trivialize our rituals, our past, our community, into some quasi-commercial celebration of the sugar industry, Hollywood horror, and personal eccentricity, undermines the culture. Día de los muertos is a communal activity, so maybe these kids did at least have to play nice. It is about sharing our world with the past… and maybe these kids had to share their “ritual foods” of candy corn and Snickers bars, but somehow that isn’t the same as accepting those from the past, and ourselves in the future, as part of a community, with whom we are still happy to break bread.