To be perfectly honest, I enjoy Halloween. I like costume parties, scary movies, and carved pumpkins. I accept it’s a commercialized holiday here in Mexico (much like Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day and even Christmas — yes, I said Christmas), but that doesn’t mean people cannot enjoy it on their very own terms.
However, the problem is that Halloween and everything Halloween-related is messing with our very own Día de Muertos.
It starts with bad timing. Halloween is the prelude to All Hallow’s Day, while Día de Muertos is celebrated during All Hallow’s and the day after. (Yes, our “day” of the dead celebration is actually composed of two days: the first of November, which is dedicated to the young departed, and the second, dedicated to the grown ups.)
The fact that both festivities are just one day apart and they both fall into the supernatural category has led to people mixing them up. In recent years, it’s become more common to find typical Halloween paraphernalia mixed in our altars (the offerings for the dead that are built in every Mexican home). Pumpkins, bats, fucking scary spiders, witches, and a carnival of monsters are now common acquaintances to pan de muerto, tamales, and sugar skulls. They have even invaded the papel picado that gives colour to the offerings. Our very own papel picado!
And you know what’s the worst part of it? They match! Yes, the traditional flowers that accompany the altars are of a bright orange or purple colour, just like pumpkins and…purple witch hats. I fear the time will come when sugar skulls start growing pumpkin-like stems and the merging of Halloween and our Día de Muertos will be complete!
Another tradition that’s getting ruined: Giving calaverita. Like trick or treating, for ages children in Mexico have asked for calavera (skull). As part of going out to gather food for the offerings they’d announce their intentions by putting a candle inside a box or a carved fruit (just like jack-o’-lanterns) and thus collect calaverita or candy.
Nowadays, Mexican children take to the streets all dressed up in Halloween costumes and carrying plastic depictions of your favorite Halloween symbol to ask for their calavera, and no more messing with candy — these guys want money!
You find them on every street corner and in every plaza, and sometimes they won’t even be children but full-on adults who don’t need a costume to scare the shit out of you. Whenever they approach me, the first thing that comes to my mind is ‘How scary is the person actually behind the scary mask?’ Better keep some change with you, just in case.
Before September 16th (Independence Day) every single store sells patriotic decorations. After the 16th? Halloween! From the first first week of October, scary movie marathons take over TV (which, come to think of it, isn’t all that bad actually.)
But the worst thing is that every single birthday party around this time of the year will instantly become a Halloween party. Even if you think wearing costumes is ridiculous, you need to consider you’ll look even more ridiculous without wearing one.
Let me end by saying that Día de Muertos is all about remembering the departed and acknowledging our mortality with a big smile on our faces. It combines our pre-hispanic roots with Christianity into a unique, complex mixture. There’s tons of symbolism and local adaptations (no, it’s not all about dressing up as catrinas…as fun as that is).
If people from Mexico want to celebrate Halloween, ok, but please keep Halloween in October and Dia de Muertos in November. They’re completely different events and both deserve their own share of attention.
Happy Halloween y feliz Día de Muertos!