Monday, November 01, 2010

I'm a Día de los Muertos Kind of Girl

I've mentioned in other posts that I've never really cared for Halloween, other than the occasional binge on chocolate upon which the holiday (as practiced in the US) seems to insist. Your mileage will almost certainly vary in your own area, but in mine there was a very strong streak of maliciousness in the way the holiday was celebrated, and I've never liked that.  At the age of six, I finally convinced everyone else in the family that I didn't want to "do" Halloween, and that was that.

Moving here to southern Arizona, I became aware of the Day of the Dead, but I mistakenly thought that it was tied in with Halloween so I ignored it.

Shame on me. Día de los Muertos has nothing to do with Halloween, and once I finally decided to find out what it was all about, I've learned that I'm definitely a Día de los Muertos kind of girl.

November 1 and 2: All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day

This is traditionally an Hispanic celebration with ties not only to the Catholic Church, but to an Aztec festival as well, and is meant to celebrate and honor the lives of the deceased. There's nothing whatsoever to do with fearing evil or malevolent spirits. 

As with most celebrations, there are preparations to make. Graves must be cleaned and decorated with flowers, candles and the food and drink that the deceased loved while living. Special foods must be cooked and altars built. The entire family participates.

The spirits of loved ones are believed to visit their homes on Día de los Muertos to celebrate with the living and to enjoy what their families have prepared for them.

In most instances, there are two celebrations. The one on November 1 is for the souls of the children to be honored. On November 2, the souls of the adults. There is much visiting, much joy, much remembrance during this very special time of year.

The decorations, the food and the idea of remembering the dead of my family and honoring them all appeals to me much more than celebrating fear and evil. I'd much rather prepare my mother's or my grandparents' favorite foods and share stories about them than dress up in an uncomfortable costume and bribe children with chocolate so they won't vandalize my home. 

I know. I'm weird. Or I grew up in the wrong part of the country. Even the art that has sprung up around Día de los Muertos appeals to me. 

Showing skeletons in all sorts of poses and situations that they loved while alive isn't the least bit morbid to me.  We are who we are because of our ancestors. It makes sense to remember them-- especially during happy times.

The Día de los Muertos even figures in books. Have you read Lowry's Under the Volcano? Necroville (Terminal Cafe) by Ian McDonald? Ray Bradbury's The Halloween Tree? How about Barbara Hambly's Days of the Dead? It appears that I'm not the only person who likes the holiday!

Now that everyone has celebrated Halloween, I think I'll celebrate Día de los Muertos. I certainly have enough family tales to remember!

"We are not here for a long time, we are here for a good time."


  1. I have always liked Halloween, although I've never much liked dressing up in costume (I was always a hobo or a pirate!). But I totally understand your love for Dia de los Muertos.

    The best celebration I ever had was the year I spent the day and evening in Jerome (AZ) in the early 1970s when the town was mostly a ghost town and hadn't yet become a tourist destination.

  2. Your celebrations have much more in common with the Italians who remember All Saints and All Souls.

  3. Thanks Cathy for this informative post...I knew nothing about this celebration, and it is fascinating to me...I like the idea of remembering those who are no longer her, and honoring them by prettying up gravesites, and making their favorite foods...the only thing I'm not sure about is the skeletons in poses favored by those who have died...

    I never had a bad Halloween experience, so I'm okay with the holiday...except for having all that chocolate in the house :)

  4. I have always been fascinated by this celebration -- I need to head to the city that celebrates it like no other!

  5. In the Danish church we also celebrate All Saints´ Day the first Sunday of November. We remember the dead, and the names of the people who died in the local church during the last year are read aloud. So like you, I am against evil pranks camouflaged as fun, but I am all for remembering my father and my grandparents.

  6. Beth-- That sounds as though it would be a wonderful celebration! Unfortunately I didn't get here early enough to experience Jerome before it was a tourist destination.

    LindyLou-- Italians, another people who know how to cook! :)

    TBG-- I have to admit that it took a while for the art to "grow on me", so I can understand your difficulty!

    C&BC-- I think that would be Oaxaca in Mexico. They have special deals on trips at this time of year. :)

    Dorte-- It doesn't surprise me that you and I think alike on this. :)

  7. Very interesting post. I didn't know Bradbury had written this particular book. I used to enjoy reading him.

  8. I'm a recent convert to this holiday....I absolutely love it. I've been to some of the celebrations in Mexico and they are astounding.

  9. Oh my gosh, me too, me too! We live in the Hispanic part of SF and so Dia Day Los Muertos is way more exciting and colorful!

  10. Joe--I always seem to be finding books Bradbury has written that I knew nothing about!

    Michele-- I have to admit that I'm slightly envious that you've been to the celebrations in Mexico!

    Leah-- There's no comparison in my mind!

  11. I think this is a great holiday, what a way to celebrate those we have loved and lost.


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