Customs, Travel

Intersections: Day of the Dead Meets Halloween and Commercialism in the United States

Día de los Muertos

Día de los Muertos

Día de los Muertos was celebrated in Utah at Thanksgiving point Their huge sign advertising the fact caught my attention and made me wonder about how they would reconcile different observances of the day, especially given that the celebration was to be held on October 23, not the customary November 1st. or Nov.2.

The day of the dead is a tradition of ‘Latin America’ according to the blurb that was written to explain to Utahns the reason for the celebration. “Legend has it that on Dia de los Muertos, the dead join us as a part of our community, awakened from their eternal sleep to share celebrations with loved ones.”

More is said in other advertisements from other communities that are also celebrating the day of the dead. In San Francisco, California, people were given a more detailed history of the celebration, explaining that the day was a fusion of cultures. “When the Spaniards arrived in the 16th century, they brought the Christian Holiday of All Soul’s Day with them. This was a Roman Catholic holy day commemorating the dead in general as well as baptized Christians who were believed to be in purgatory. Spanish priests were quick to see a correlation between the Aztec and Christian celebrations so moved the Aztec festival from summer to fall so that it coincided with All Souls Day. This was done in the hopes that the Aztec holiday, which the Spaniards considered to be pagan, would be transformed into an acceptable Christian holiday.” (http://www.dayofthedeadsf.org/history.html)

Decorating for Halloween
Decorating for Halloween

However, Dia de los Muertos is not a day only claimed by Aztec culture. It celebrated in Peru with the name Dia de los Difuntos, or day of the departed. It is a two-day of remembrance of children and those who have died. The favorite foods of those who have died are prepared and left at the graves or on alters, with the hopes of appeasing the spirits of the dead when they arise and wander the night of the 1st of November. Early celebrations of the dead were held in the summer, but the day was moved to correlate with ‘All Saints Day’ a Catholic holiday, along with many of the traditions and stories associated with All Saints day.

Interestingly enough, this includes more fusion between the Anglo American and Latin American culture. The story of the Jack o Lantern, a quintessential part of the American holiday of Halloween has been everlastingly changed because of its trip from Europe to America. A boy named Jack tricks the devil into climbing a tree (as one of the Halloween tricks) – then carves a cross on the trunk so the devil can’t come down. The devil is angry but eventually makes a deal with Jack. The devil agrees not to take Jack into Hell when he dies. However, when Jack dies he cannot enter heaven, so he is condemned to wander the earth carrying a candle. In Europe he carries a turnip to protect the flame, but in America the turnip is transformed to a Pumpkin – a truly American transformation.

Goddess of Underworld
Goddess of Underworld

The proximity of Halloween to Dia de Los Muertos is beginning another transformation and amalgamation. For Halloween people often pull out the ‘horror’ aspects of death and wear face paint, masks, and costumes that reflect a grim and gruesome perspective of the dead. They decorate their homes with spiders, cobwebs, pumpkins, gravestones and grim reminders of the dead and death. The lovely remembrance is gone, and only fear remains.

In Peru and Mexico food is taken to the grave site – flowers are placed and a small area like an altar is made. Some of these were on display at Thanksgiving point. I took a picture of food left at one of the altars.

Offering
Offering

The celebration at Thanksgiving Point charged $10 per adult for admission. Once inside, everything except the coloring table for small children was on a fee basis.

This may be the grimmest transition of all. Instead of families working together to gather things that the deceased loved in life, an alter kit can be purchased and a small picture inserted. I found the commercialization of the day a horror that will give me chills for months to come.

Citations:

https://www.thanksgivingpoint.org/dayofthedead
https://www.dayofthedeadsf.org/history.html
https://www.santamuerte.org/rituales/3019-mictecacihuatl.html
https://carm.org/halloween

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