Halloween has come and gone, and already the stores have started stocking holiday items. I hate this feeling — the one you get when you see tinsel and prefab knit stockings two weeks before the clock strikes midnight on my favourite holiday of the year. I hide at home. Don’t go into stores. Try to avoid the red and green and silver. It’s too soon, and I’m not ready to let go quite yet.
Being November 1st, I’m still holed up in my apartment, still sitting in my Halloween costume, trying to convince myself that’s it’s not over yet.
And you know, it sorta is and it sorta isn’t.
In Mexico, right now, families are gathering in cemeteries with armfuls of marigolds and fragrant foods, tending to the graves of their loved ones. November 1st is still a little bit spooky special, and if you’ve never heard of it: Dias de Muertos — the Days of the Dead — is a beautiful tradition that dates back to the Aztecs that keeps the spirit going just a little longer. (Pun.)
It’s a day of remembrance for those that have come before us. It’s a time to reflect and share food with family and friends, both alive and dead.
The dead are honoured with offrendas — offerings of flowers, sugar skulls, baked goods (especially a bread of the dead) that are often prepared in the shapes of skeletons. Photographs and artwork are prepared and left for the departed, and people return to hold vigils with the belief that on October 31, November 1, and November 2, the souls of the deceased return to visit.
I’ve always loved this thought: on the one day of the year, when I’m dead, I’m offered the opportunity to return to the world of the living and hang out a bit with the people I’ve left behind. It’s an ancestral tradition that keeps the memory of those who’ve gone before alive — as long as there’s someone there to remember you, you’ve got a place to go.
Also, who needs candy when you’ve got gorgeous sugar skulls?
So what’s with all the bones? Parades through Mexico have hoards of people dressed up as skeletons around this time of year. They’re not exactly out trick or treating. Given the proliferation of skellies and skulls, I did a little investigation: One figure in particular stood out. An elegantly dressed woman, La Catrina, as I came to know her represented the upper class. A skeleton herself in a wide-brimmed hat and fancy dress, the figure dates back to an etching created by José Guadalupe Posada.
She’s been adapted in paper mache, wood sculpture, and artworks of all varieties. Women paint their faces to look like skeletons, and are often accompanied by dapper gentlemen who’ve skilled themselves up as well.
The calaveras are a reminder that regardless of who you are, rich or poor, death is a neutralizing force: it will put us all back on the same level someday, no matter who we were in life. The costumes and makeup are a reminder to remember this fact — we’re all just bones underneath anyway, right?
Wishing you a wonderful Day of the Dead, I hope the spirits that visit this evening are of good humour. Light a candle for them and take a little time to remember the good times, as you never know how much time you’ve got left before you’re the one coming back to visit (without a body.)