Halloween Town

Halloween Town: The Power of Being Dead

Day of the Dead cemetery celebration in Mexico.
When I first moved to Arizona, I discovered a wonderful holiday called Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. The holiday is officially celebrated November1st, and it’s all about respect for the dead and remembering those we have lost. In Mexico, families travel to cemeteries with things like favorite dishes, favorite liquors, and sugar skulls (decorative candies in the shapes of skulls). Families leave these trinkets on the graves of their loved ones, and they basically hang out all day, telling stories, perhaps even weeping.

Although the holiday in itself comforts me, it is the imagery that fascinates me. Day of the Dead is all about calaveras—skeletons dressed as humans doing human things. They even have skeleton pets, and skulls, skulls, skulls. So of course, as an ode to this Mexican holiday I so adore, I decided to mix Day of the Dead with Halloween this year and become a walking sugar skull on Saturday night.

Hairstyle goddess Jessica did my hair; makeup genius Sabina (http://www.MakeupbySabina.com) painted my face. The painting took about an hour and a half. Costuming took about twenty minutes, while Jake had his own face painted to match mine. When all was said and done, when I was fully In Costume, I realized I felt a sudden and overwhelming sense of power. Was the corset cutting off oxygen to my brain? After weeks of being sick with the flu, did that first ginger and bourbon push me over the edge of Super Ego Land?

Sara, are you there? Nope. Not tonight.
Nay. When I walked back into my living room, ready to hit the town, the eyes of those around me held the same shock and awe. It helped that my escort for the evening looked extraordinarily sexy, and together, we could hold a pose that would make a ghoul shiver in fright. Off we went to bar after bar, and never in my life have I felt so POWERFUL. There were men who looked at me in fear. There were men who asked me to dance, only to be rejected over and over. There were the girls who shrieked and fell down around me saying how amazing I looked. Then, there was Jake, and whenever I looked at him, I realized it wasn’t just me; there was something about being sexy and dead that really turned people on!

I plan to try and bring this sense of power to my daily life, especially since I suffer from social anxiety disorder, and my behavior Saturday night surprised even me. No, I probably won’t strut and cast bedroom eyes at, say, Safeway, but this Halloween weekend, I was reminded of what Halloween is all about: accepting and empowering an unfamiliar persona. In celebration of Day of the Dead, I came alive. I gave frightened men scalding glares. I danced, danced, and spun in my Flamenco skirt. Jake and I even won a costume contest for “Scariest Costume” and a two-night stay at a Vegas resort. There is power in being dead.

My husband is sooooooo hot.
This was a spectacular Saturday night, not only because I won a prize but because I immersed myself in the culture I have come to love—that of Mexico and all its spooktacular holiday happenings. I became someone else—someone with power that vibrated and shook the sweet innocents who dared catch my eye. Oh, it was glorious. I’ll never forget the way it felt to be painted. I’ll never forget the extreme sexiness of my husband (even yesterday, when he still couldn’t get all the eye makeup to come off). I’ll never forget the POWER of being a ghoulish, dead goddess, all thanks to the imagination of hair and makeup artists and my sudden, inexplicable lack of fear.

And to think, there’s still Wednesday to look forward to …

Arizona · Halloween Town

Halloween Town: Dia de los Muertos

Despite early settlers attempts to “civilize” the natives with Christian tradition, Dia de los Muertos—or Day of the Dead—is still one of the most widely celebrated holidays in all of Mexico. And in the Valley of the Sun, too, so it would seem.

Although Dia de los Muertos is closely associated with Halloween, the holidays have very little in common, beyond the feasting and the partying. Dia de los Muertos officially occurs not on October 31, but on November 2, in connection with the Catholic All Saints’ Day (November 1) and All Souls’ Day (November 2).

It’s all about honoring your ancestors. People don wooden skull masks (“calacas”) and dance around. They build full altars to the dead, meant to remember and pay homage to those gone—a good idea, especially since many ancient celebrators of the Day of the Dead believe spirits come back to visit the living on this hallowed day.

Dia de los Muertos is also about visiting cemeteries—in effect, visiting your dead relatives—and decorating their graves with flowers and candles. One source suggested bringing a bottle of tequila to leave behind for the dead. (Do you think old Aunt Myrtle would mind if I took a tiny sip?) It’s an all-day thing. You sit on a blanket, have a kind of picnic, and eat your dead relative’s favorite dish.

Maybe you think this is morbid, but look at it from the perspective of native Mexican people. To them, death was not the end of life; it was a continuation of life. Instead of fearing death, they embraced it. To them, life was a dream and only in death did they become truly awake. When you look at it that way, you can see how this event turns into a big party by the end of the day!

Since we’re so close to Mexico here in AZ, there are countless Dia de los Muertos celebrations going on in the Valley of the Sun. Here’s a mere smattering:

  • Dia de los Muertos. Mesa Arts Center, Mesa, AZ. October 30–31. “Join the arts center for its fourth annual Dia de los Muertos Festival, Saturday and Sunday.  Mesa Arts Center ignites in a celebration of departed loved ones in the traditional manner observed for centuries in towns across Mexico.  The Mercado features vibrant colors, an assortment of traditional and contemporary merchandise, jewelry, Mexican arts & crafts, and more from local artisans and vendors.  Live entertainment, food, family, and fun will be abundant!”
  • Dia de los Muertos. Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix, AZ. October 30–31. “Come to the Garden for Day of the Dead, or Día de los Muertos, a colorful tradition that honors and celebrates departed loved ones in a festival setting. Enjoy entertainment that will bring the history of the holiday to life with song, dance, and storytelling. Festivities culminate with La Procesión. Experience the Desert Botanical Garden’s interactive altar honoring Día de los Muertos. Delicious Mexican food, pastries, and beautiful Mexican art will be available for purchase in the Gardens Mercado.”

I’m not suggesting you obsess over dead people for the day. But—especially if you live in the valley—you should definitely take a look into the famous celebration of the country downstairs. And why not? There’s gonna be good food, cool masks, and creepy altars. What’s not to like? And it never hurts to commune with your dead relatives and friends. Let’s face it: we miss them. So in memory of Papa Dobie, Grandma Dobie, Uncle Barney, Christa, and Simon the Cat, I’ll see you this weekend for Dia de los Muertos.