The Real Meaning of Halloween (Part 1)

Part 1: British and Mexican Traditions

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Me with La Catrina on my first day in Mexico

31st October 2010.  I’m terrified and alone, the ground starts shaking below me, I’ve got no idea where the hell I’m going or what ghouls await me on the other side.  This isn’t a creepy Halloween story; this time three years ago I was making my way to Mexico City for the first time, on a plane, with absolutely no clue what I was going to do on the other side.  Learn Spanish?  Teach English?  Join a drug cartel?  Learn to dance salsa?  Start a new life?  I definitely did some of those things but I certainly wasn’t expecting to spend almost three years there and fall in love with the place.

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Day of the Dead decorations

 

The date was pretty significant for me, because I’ve always been fascinated by Halloween and I’d heard all about the spectacular Day of the Dead traditions that hold such importance to Mexican culture and I wasn’t let down.  Colourful altars with skeletons ironically representing important figures of Mexican culture, fireworks in the streets (pretty much my worst nightmare as a stick-to-the-health-and-safety rules Brit), parties in the graveyard and wonderful , diabetes-inducing food everywhere.  Not forgetting various representations of the famous La Catrina, originally conveyed by the artist José Guadalupe Posada as a skeleton dressed in upper-class clothing, his satire on the Mexican natives who he felt were over-embracing European culture.

jack-o-lantern_1018235iIt was a definite contrast to the macabre festival we celebrate here in England, but I’ve never lost my interest in our celebration.  You see, what both the Mexican and the British celebration have in common is that they both amalgamate certain Christian traditions with the customs and beliefs of more ancient cultures.  Christians mark the day as “All Saints”  day, which is a day for us to remember all of the saints and martyrs throughout history, even those that don’t have their own special day.  Mexicans maintain this tradition but also take many of their Day of the Dead rituals from Aztec culture, who believed that it was the one day of the year when the dead get to return to earth and have a hell of a good time (hohoho) so it’s a time to party with them (hence fiestas in the graveyard and beautiful colourful altars).  We British folk take our traditions from a pagan festival called Samhain which is the time when the veils between this world and the other were believed to be thinnest.  Just like the Mexican celebration, it’s not supposed to be a morbid event.  In fact the word death can also symbolise endings , not just referring to the end of life but also to significant life changes such as the passing of relationships and jobs.  It’s a time to come to terms with the past and look towards the future.

day of the dead extraHalloween this year feels very relevant to me on many levels, as I imagine it would do to many others.  A lot of big changes have been happening for me this year: after almost three years I came home to England and tried to come to terms with my past, I recently ended an important relationship and now I’m partaking in my One Year in Transition.  Both the past and the future feel very present to me right now and a lot of big steps will be made.  My next post will talk a little more about how and what this means for my One Year in Transition.  Have a spooktacular night!

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