(November 1 – written by Dave)
Today is the first day of Day of the Dead holiday. This is not “Mexican Halloween” (yeah, I had no clue either). Both holidays have pagan origins. Both use the same symbolic colours – orange and black – along with purple now. And the dead, or death, plays a part in both festivals. With Halloween, death is something scary or feared. In Day of the Dead, it is actually celebrated.
It is thought that Day of the Dead started way back in the Maya days, some 3,000 years ago. This kind of blended in with All Saints Day when the Spanish/Catholics arrived. Today people build temporary alters with pictures of deceased loved ones. They cover these alters with all the things that the deceased person/people liked or did. There is an emphasis on old people (old people die more) and young people – children who died too young. But it is not sad or sombre – it’s a celebration of the dead and their lives. Normally November 1 is the deceased kid day, and November 2 is the deceased old person day. Some people believe that these days are the best days during the year in which to communicate with lost loved ones.
Tonight we went to a neighbourhood Day of the Dead festival. There were 10s of shrines, all very fancy with lights, candles, some sort of scene and of course a photo or two of the person being celebrated. They all had numbers on them also – we think they are being judged for a “best in show” at some point in the next couple days.
There is also a tradition of dressing up as a skeleton in very fancy costumes. And by fancy I mean very fancy. Think ballroom dresses, big hats, flowers, feathers, skeleton makeup and no smile. I think costumed people are told to be “serious” all the time. They are more than happy to pose for a photo but you don’t get much of a smile except if they have a skeleton smile painted on. More women were in costume than men, but the majority seemed to “play” a woman. I’m sure that there is a lot more to it than we know even with our internet searching.
And just to make it a little more confusing, on October 31st, it seems that trick-or-treating has taken off here as well. It would seem that kids everywhere like to dress up and door knock for candy – what kid wouldn’t? So, like us, you’d be forgiven for thinking of Day of the Dead as sort of Mexican Halloween… If we hadn’t read the Gringo Gazette (local English paper), we probably would have just thought, yep, Mexican Halloween.
More La Paz updates to follow as interesting things happen. Enjoy the DOTD photos below…