This fascinating two-day celebration at the first of November is not only the oldest American ritual honoring the dead, but the most popular holiday in all of Mexico. The native peoples that inhabited Mexico before the Spanish conquest in 1521 had a deep connection with death and dying. While modern western medicine cannot explain what happens after death occurs, neither could the old healers tell anyone what truly lies beyond the veil of life. So when Catholicism became the religion forced upon the Indigenous People, the Church already had two special days of recognizing and remembering the dead: All Saints Day and All Souls Day.
The appealing concept and imagery of this special day remembering the dead helped the merging of the Catholics’ and the Indigenous Peoples’ histories and beliefs. Dia de los Muertos formed a perfect common and similar union between Catholicism and Mexican traditional days of celebration. Ironically, this is a day for the dead with little focus on the Church, Jesus Christ, nor the trilogy. Instead, candied skeletons, skulls, marigold flowers and photographs of the deceased family members adorn the beautiful and personalized shrines and altars throughout Mexico. It is an invitation from the living to the dead to come and share a meal. Often on display can be found tequila, beers, cigarettes, tacos, mole: whatever each individual dead honoree enjoyed the most.
It is widely believed that the American tradition of Halloween stems from the blending of these two traditional celebrations of the dead’s lives. However, as one might expect from a culture of consumerism, Americans buy our children costumes of spooks, ghosts and skeletons and hustle them off to scare people and ask for candy. One can certainly see the American propensity to commercialize what was at one time a day to honor and remember your people now passed over. On the Day of the Dead, one sees all over Mexico activities such as building altars and shrines, cleaning and decorating graves, listening to strolling musicians, telling funny stories about each deceased relative, now again living for two precious days a year in the cemeteries through the energy, respect and honor of their families. The energy is always joyous, never gloomy. It is ironically a celebration of Life, this Day of the Dead!
Modern American culture has morphed this wonderful celebration of life into children screaming “Boo!” as if the dead came back on All Saints Day to scare people. Give me candy or we will “trick” you somehow in revenge. The real trick would be to somehow culturally re-connect Halloween with the wonderful aspects of the Day of the Dead.
So this Halloween, or the Day of the Dead, please stop by the Agoyo Lounge at the Inn on the Alameda in Santa Fe for a celebratory meal and drink and toast your past family members; and through your memories, celebrate their lives on earth.