Saturday, November 5, 2011

Day of the Dead

Halloween is my favorite holiday, hands down. There are the costumes, creativity, carved pumpkins, cold air, and candy. Heck, I don't even eat candy, usually only sweets that are homemade and/or organic, but for some reason the little chocolate bars that I usually find waxy and overly sweet are enjoyable.

But Halloween can swing too far in one of two directions- the preoccupation with goofy, slutty costumes and intense partying, or with darkness and fear. In my eyes, Mexican Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) exists as the perfect foil and balance to Halloween. On November 2nd in Mexico, families congregate around home and community altars to commemorate dead loved ones. It addresses death but in an intentional, festive way. The idea is that the spirits of the deceased are present, so you should set up the altar with things that they would enjoy- candles to light their way, their favorite foods, flowers, water so they can drink and wash their hands, etc. I recognize that I'm not Mexican, and this is not my culture's holiday, but I respect and value the space that is created to remember the deceased, something I feel we don't do enough of as Americans. Perhaps we visit a loved one's grave on their birthday, but otherwise we don't have a centralized time to celebrate and reflect on the people who have passed on.

A staple to any Day of the Dead celebration is the Pan de Muerto, or Dead Bread. It is a yeasted egg bread that is usually round, with crosses on it represent bones, and a tear drop in the middle for sorrow. This is the recipe I used, which seems pretty authentic and turned out well.
At my mom's house we set up an altar with the bread, plus fruit, and pictures of our loved ones. I also showed my 10 year-old niece how to make paper flowers with tissue paper. She made some, and along with real flowers, we added those to the altar.
As much as I love dressing up on Halloween, I often have a hard time coming up with a costume idea until right before the day. This year, since I was already so excited about Day of the Dead, I figured I stay with that theme and be a Mexican skeleton, also called La Catrina. I got a straw hat, sewed on some lace to the brim, and added flowers, and other tidbits, including a craft box lid straight from Oaxaca.
With a little face paint and skeleton body suit, the outfit was complete. I realized it was the first time I've ever really been something 'dead'. As kids in my family, we were never allowed to dress as anything dark, deadly, magical, evil, etc. My mom did not approve of that aspect of Halloween for kids. Which was fine, because I basically wanted to be a princess from age 5-11. But somehow the Skeleton didn't feel dark and evil- it felt totally appropriate to the season, and just the right mix of spirit and life.

1 comment:

ElizaBeth said...

You look fantastic! And that's so cool your family celebrated Dia de los Muertos. I agree, we do not remember and honor the deceased in any meaningful way in this culture.