Halloween and Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) has come and gone. Are you sad to see it go? Are you the type who stays up all night dressed in a ridiculous costume binge eating sweets watching Hollywood horrors? What is Halloween to you?
For some it is a day for the kids. For others it is the one day you can be a kid again and get away with it. For others still, it is the Day of the Dead. I haven't really liked Halloween since that time in my childhood where I wanted to dress like nothing but Dracula for so many years in a row. I don't know why but I got out of the whole dressing up thing when I was pretty young.
In addition to that, I never really understood Day of the Dead even though it is popular with Mexican culture. I am part Mexican and quite proud of that, but at the end of the day I can't really identify with that side of my heritage. I was, after all, raised by my very loving, and very white, mother. (Who ironically knows far more Spanish than I do go figure.) So Dia de los Muertos was completely lost on me. I didn't understand that it was any different from Halloween. I mean, people dressed up, skeletons are all over the place, the only difference I really saw is that it is slightly more colorful.
This year I figured I would go downtown to see a Halloween costume contest. What I found, much to my delight however, were people setting up little booths and shrines of sorts for the Day of the Dead. Many of these were beautiful and very labor intensive for sure. I even stumbled upon these guys who were glad to talk to me about what was going on that day and took real pride in their work. I have no idea how much of it was set up prior, but I can tell you they were working on it for hours before and after I got there and the result was fantastic. They were kind enough to give me their Facebook page which you can check out here: AlamoBasementSA.
I saw many different booths and each were highly decorated. I even saw one dedicated to Robin Williams which I thought was pretty cool. He was my favorite actor after all. (Go see his non-comedic movies. That really shows what kind of an actor he was.) Still, seeing all these really didn't grant me any more understanding as to what Day of the Dead really was, beautiful though they may have been.
That is... until I discovered the most eye opening piece of art work I think I have ever personally seen. Tucked away behind a wall so you may very well have missed it was a piece that was so unassuming I almost passed it by. I am glad that I didn't. A simple dead sapling tree (or branch disguised to look like one) is all it was with ornaments hung from its bare twigs like a very sad rendition of a Christmas tree. Underneath it was a blanket with figures drawn that were reminiscent of much of what I had seen already that night. I was about to leave because beside it was a 6 or 7 foot tall booth dedicated to John Lennon, when something in my head told me to take a closer look at the piece. Perhaps this "something" comes from seeing so much art over time. When you view a piece, you must always try to see it from different angles, distances, and with different lighting. But perhaps it wasn't that at all, and maybe, just maybe something else called to me, beckoning me to see what this was actually all about. So for whatever reason I walked up closer to see the ornaments. What I saw, or rather what I read, will be in my memories forever. The minute I read some of the notes that were pinned to this poor little twig of a tree I felt that, "Oh it's nothing I just have something in my eye," feeling. Come on guys, you know which one I am talking about. For on these ornaments were messages to passed loved ones. Some were vague, some were written by children, and some celebrated the deceased by explaining to whoever read it what their favorite food in life was.
I couldn't believe the beauty and sadness in this little otherwise unremarkable work of art. I can't explain to you how surprising and moving this was for me. The words scrawled on these little strips of paper touched a part of my soul I didn't even know existed. None of them were very long, a few words at most, but the love and care put into those few words were powerful enough to humble this average observer. Of all things, that showed me what the Day of the Dead was all about. It's not about ghosts and goblins. It's not about candy and costumes. Rather, Day of the Dead is about honoring, respecting, and remembering those who have left us. It's a time of sadness, but also a time of happiness knowing that we have a day dedicated especially to their memory. It is the Day of the Dead, but it is also a day of the living. On this day we can be thankful we are here to feel the sadness we feel for the deceased. We feel it, not really because they are dead, but rather because they were alive, and we miss them.
The Day of the Dead is a reminder to everyone that life is fragile and precious. Precious because sometimes you can turn a corner down a path you never expected to go, and find the beauty of the human condition scrawled on a strip of paper hung on a twig.
As always, thanks for reading everyone. I hope you had a great Halloween. If you'd like to follow me on twitter so you can be updated when I post new blogs, please look me up @thealexscene.