It was 81 degrees outside. It was still early October, not even yet time to set clocks back an hour or pay way too much for a pumpkin in the city. Nearly three months stood like a lump of crushed hopes between that particular moment and Christmas – and yet, there they were, rows of holiday fare awaiting their rotation in the cycle of commercial life, because, well, why the hell not? Does anyone even notice or care anymore? Drug stores churn through this sort of prefab holiday crap like crack anyway, and candy canes have the shelf life of nuclear fuel rods. Might as well just leave them out all year long.My sentiment exactly. Dia de los Muertos makes more spiritual sense than Halloween, and is a better celebration than almost any of our commercially-driven "holidays".
It’s almost enough to induce chronic bitterness. It’s almost enough to make you think there’s no other way. There is always another way.
Two days after Halloween, I stood, surrounded by walking skulls and candles, ritual and death, corrected.
It was Dia de los Muertos, of course, swarming through SF’s Mission district like a breath of fresh, funky, coffin-like air, a quirky, morbid, wonderful slap in the face to every American holiday ritual in existence, along with the ruthless machinery of capitalism that define them.
Talk about everything bland, oversold American culture is not – giddy, weird, moribund, playful, creepy, home-spun, solemn, completely noncommercial, no marketing and no major advertising and no noxious commercial jingles, no smarmy Coca Cola ads featuring diabetic polar bears sucking down toxic sugar water and not dying from global warming.
Also: Not a single megastore offering a special Day of the Dead deal on big-screen TVs. No tasteful, sweatshop-made ornaments from Pottery Barn. No special drinks, no immature misinterpretations of Jesus’ birth or death, no reindeer sweaters. It was sort of miraculous.
Instead, Dia de los Meurtos is, to my imperfect understanding, a time to honor the dead, respect your ancestors and pay homage to those loved ones you’ve lost, all during the few days when it’s believed the veil separating the living from the dead is thinnest. There are cacophonous processionals, offerings, marigolds galore (the Aztec flower of death, to which souls are drawn), photos of the deceased everywhere, altars and shrines from sublime to silly, mementos and trinkets and sugar skulls in abundance. It’s sacred, potent, playful, deeply moving. You know, just like Christmas never was.
But it’s also, if I understand it correctly, a day to sort of mock Death itself, that skinny, weak bag o’ bones who couldn’t possibly carry you away right now, and who doesn’t scare you not one bit, even though he totally does.
Is that not refreshing? No wonder American commerce hasn’t swarmed all over this idiosyncratic ritual. Unlike Mexico (and Brazil, Spain, and many others) we haven’t really developed the means to handle death or the afterlife with anything other than fear and denial. Halloween is as close as we get, and that’s become far more about kids gorging on candy and adults gorging on cocktails. The old pagan rituals? The Celtic harvest festivals? Not a clue.
Wednesday, November 6, 2013
How to die long before Christmas
If it's Wednesday it must be Morford on crass Christmas commercialism and Dia de los Muertos. I've been getting Christmas catalogs since August. Not so much as ONE Dia de los Muertos catalog.
Posted by Gordon at 13:50