It’s Halloween, traditionally a day filled with costumes and candy. Since we moved to a rural area, we no longer have kids ringing our doorbell, but we’ve kept the spirit of Halloween in our hearts (and in past years, even a hopeful bowl of candy…just in case). This year, though, there’s just one package of Justin’s Peanut Butter Cups for any intrepid trick-or-treater that knocks at the door…and I’ve been looking for a more meaningful reason to celebrate the day.
Have you seen the Pixar movie, “Coco“? It’s a visually-appealing, entertaining film inspired by the Latinx holiday Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). It explains the traditions of the holiday, including that during the three-day span (10/31-11/2), the spirits of dead family are welcomed back to the living world – not in a “Living Dead” horror film way, but in a hopeful, celebratory way. Offerings are left on an ofrenda, along with the family member’s photo, so that the spirit can find its way back home to visit.
As is explained in this National Geographic article, these traditions “originated from several thousand years ago with the Aztec, Toltec, and other Nahua people, who considered mourning the dead disrespectful.” Instead, they considered death a natural part of living, and the deceased remained a part of the community. I find this idea very appealing, as I personally don’t believe that death is just the end of existence. And I also like the idea that the beloved dead could come back and visit.
Whether you hold these beliefs or not, the charm of Día de los Muertos is undeniable: artful sugar skulls, cheerily colorful costumes, the hope of the spirits of missed loved ones being present (if only briefly), fermented beverages!, flowers…this is a lovely, warm, and joyful celebration.
While I won’t give up carving jack o’lanterns or nursing the tiniest hope that someday, a costumed child may knock at my door (I truly do understand why they don’t come here when they can go to easily-accessed and well-lit housing developments or malls – and I’d probably do the same with my kids, if I were a parent), I may just incorporate at least some of the elements of Día de los Muertos into my own holiday traditions. At my ofrenda, I’d have the favorite snacks and toys of lost pets, in the shining hope that they may find their way back and perhaps curl up in their usual comfortable chair or bed for a bit. Being in the presence of lost loved ones and honoring them so beautifully appeals very much, indeed.
An important consideration, however, is how to incorporate other cultures’ traditions without doing it in a disrespectful or appropriative manner. Educating yourself is key – while I believe that it can be done in a tasteful and culturally-sensitive way, it shouldn’t be done without reading up on the “dos and don’ts” first.
May you have a safe and happy Halloween (if you observe it), and (if applicable) may the spirits of loved ones easily find their way home.