Tag: Dia de los Muertos

Not Quite Halloween

Back in the 1960s, the great essayist Joseph Mitchell wrote about his awe at seeing murals depicting “animated skeletons mimicking living human beings engaged in many kinds of human activities, mimicking them and mocking them… I was astonished by these pictures.”

He was describing, of course, the imagery of Día De Los Muertos. In Mitchell’s era, the Latin American holiday was exotic and largely unknown to US readers, and he was performing his writerly duty of passing along intriguing cultural information to his audience.

Today, we all are familiar with Día De Los Muertos — the white face paint on celebrants, the ubiquitous illustrations of grinning skulls, the small panoramas of skeleton musicians and dancers.

diadelosmertos

However, there is still great confusion in America about what this holiday actually signifies. Although it takes place at the same time of year as Halloween and shares the theme of ghostly visitors, there are fundamental differences.

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Scary

Our babysitter is a recent immigrant (from Africa). She was confused about the concept of Halloween, so she asked me to explain it to her.

Halfway through mentioning the various aspects — ghosts and goblins, people watching horror movies, children going door to door for candy, adults getting drunk, women dressing trashy — she asked, “I don’t understand how that is all one holiday, and what do pumpkins have to do with anything?” She’s right. This is one seriously schizophrenic party.

And I didn’t even get into the roots of the holiday, which are in the pagan celebration of Samhain. And of course, I was remiss in not mentioning the Latin American custom of Dia de los Muertos, which has established more of a presence in the United States over the last few years, largely because of the booming Hispanic population (you’re welcome).

But regardless of how you celebrate today, be sure to maintain the spirit of the holiday. You know, like the kids do.

skeleton mom


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