Saturday, October 30, 2010

dia de los muertos

the end of October in most Western societies, particularly the U.K., Canada, and the U.S., is typically associated with Halloween. this time of year, however, is also celebrated by other non-Western societies, primarily in Latin America, with Dia de los Muertos (in English: "the day of the dead").

in countries with heavy Anglo and Latin influences, these 2 celebrations have largely become conflated. with Halloween falling on October 31 and Dia de los Muertos falling on November 2, the 2 events have merged into an extended holiday. throughout most of the southern and western areas of the U.S., for example, people of all cultural backgrounds have come to largely treat the last weekend in October as a 3-or-4 day vacation with an excuse for enjoying celebrations with ghoulish and supernatural themes, consuming mass quantities of food and drink invariably loaded with sugar and alcohol, and wearing outlandish costumes well outside of personal inhibitions.

prior to the modern era the 2 holidays came from recognizably different origins. Halloween is largely seen as arising from the Celtic pagan traditions, while Dia de los Muertos is more associated with pre-colonial indigenous practices in the Americas. despite this, the 2 holidays share a number of similarities apart from their time of celebration: both are believed to indicate a time when the barriers between this life and the afterlife allowed spirits to pass through, both are seen as a time when the living could commune with the dead, and both were taken as a time to commemorate the deceased. such beliefs are maintained in various ways by various societies around the world, but Halloween and Dias de los Muertos benefited from the mutual influence of the Catholic Church, which mingled their respective cultural origins with Christianity and thereby morphed the 2 so that they became separate but overlapping celebrations observing many common practices and themes.

you can compare them via their respective Wikipedia pages:
living in Southern California, i've had the opportunity to watch both events--which in Los Angeles, consistent with the rest of the southern and western U.S., are largely just 1 big one. however, coming from a Northern European background (or at least, a mish-mashed agglomeration of randomly selected Northern European and Southeast Asian cultures), i've always been more fascinated by Dia de los Muertos, albeit not so much in the modern incarnation it shares with Halloween, but moreso in its older form maintained by more traditional Catholic Latinos.

you can get a feel for the Dia de los Muertos celebrations in Los Angeles at the following:
what i find intriguing is the modes of celebration. some of it i find very familiar: remembering the dead through attendance at church or visits to graves, communion with prayer, moments of reflection, etc. some of it, though, i find somewhat unfamiliar and thus more intriguing: using joyous celebration and vigorous activities for times that i would consider to be somber and peaceful.

but in a way, i think that this isn't really anything that strange. because what's essentially happening is that people are choosing to remember the dead in ways that respect life--the life of those deceased, the life of those still living, and all of life in general. and the way they are choosing to respect life is not through sorrow or grief or loss or despair, even as much as that is part of how the living relate to the dead, but rather instead to respect life through happiness and joy and progress and triumph, because that is also very much a part of how the living can honor the dead: by affirming that life goes on, and that life is to be lived, and that the dead would want us to do so.

and this is something that i was taught in my own heritage and something that i very much believe and something that i always make a point to remember for all the loved ones that i have lost: that we the living must live for the dead, to live the lives that they could not...because they would want us to do so.

and as much as i have held on to this thought in the course of my daily living, i have even more so held on to it in my racing. because i know that my involvement in activities as so vigorous as sports is in all honesty an intensely personal experience marking a deeper journey towards a greater understanding of life and a closer realization of existence reaching supreme truths that all the dead who have gone before me would have wanted me to know: the joy of God.

and that's no different than what Dia de los Muertos is doing.

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