Halloween Town

Halloween Town: An Epic Day of Celebration

Saturday morning, I woke up, made a batch of Pumpkin Spice coffee, and watched the first hour of Dead Silence—a horror movie about ventriloquist dummies coming back to life and killing people. Ew. I got dressed and was soon ready for the Dia de Los Muertos celebration at the Mesa Arts Center. For the ride, I burned a special Halloween CD, featuring such numbers as “The Monster Mash,” “The Time Warp,” and my favorite: “I Put a Spell on You” by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins.

Dia de los Muertos, Mesa Arts Center Altar
As soon as I pulled onto Main Street, Mesa, I could hear the Latino band, Orquestra Kaliente, rockin’ out on stage. I don’t like Mariachi. I think Mariachi sounds like German polka music with Spanish lyrics. But the music I heard at Day of the Dead was not Mariachi. It was salsa, cha cha cha, cumbia, and bolero. I even got the chance to hear a rousing rendition of my favorite Mexican song, “Paloma Negra.”

Let’s not forget the décor. Skulls, skulls, everywhere! And altars with huge flower arrangement, candles, and Dia de los Muertos masks! Despite the beautiful, sunny day, the décor made it feel at least a little creepy, and of course, I bought a skull for our house AND did a rubbing that looks like a southern belle, dead and skeletal with an evil grin. Oh, and how could I forget the mouth-watering authentic chicken mole tacos?

Part of the Dia de los Muertos tradition is eating the favorite dish of your deceased relative. So on my way home, I picked up some beef ravioli and vodka sauce in memory of Uncle Barney. While prepping dinner for Jake (who had to work Saturday—twelve long hours), I watched Rocky Horror Picture show … again. I only watched it four times this month. I danced around the house to “Sweet Transvestite” as I prepared for my costume: a Stepford Wife.

Sara, the Stepford Wife.
This costume came from a conversation I had with a buddy of mine, Jeff Moriarty. Over lunch, I was explaining how I made mashed potatoes from scratch for the first time. Jeff said, “You should be Donna Reed for Halloween,” to which I replied, “No, I should be a STEPFORD WIFE!” To which he replied, “Why do you have to make everything creepy?”

Costume fully intact, I left the house and spent the rest of the evening at first, a house party, and then, our local Litchfield Park haunt, Taps Signature Cuisine and Bar. There was much drinking, dancing, and rejoicing, as the Stepford Wife and (generally speaking) a bunch of strangers wallowed in the beauty of the night, while ducking fake cobwebs and waving our hands over boiling dry-ice cauldrons.

Now, Halloween Town must come to an end. The decorations must be removed and costumes stored in closets for another year. Rotten pumpkins must be thrown away, and leftover candy from trick-or-treaters must be consumed in plenty. This month has been filled with freaky fun. I’ve watched approximately 20–30 horror movies, dozens of ghost hunter programs on the Travel Channel, and even the little pumpkin lights that danced around the skeleton hanging on our front door. I’ve learned about new holidays: the Wiccan Samhain and the Mexican Dia de los Muertos. I did just about everything I set out to do in the month of October, and I enjoyed it all.

Looking back, I’ve come to realize something: Halloween time doesn’t have to be only in October. Halloween time isn’t only about October 31. It is about creepy, eerie stuff—things that go bump in the night, things that scare you, things that make your heart race, things I love!

At the end of the movie Scrooged, Bill Murray goes on a whole rant about Christmas and how we’re all more cheerful at Christmastime. We laugh a little easier. We smile a little more. We’re filled with Christmas cheer. I say, we should carry a bit of Halloween spook with us all year long. Randomly watch a scary movie in the dark. On a hike in February, jump out and scare your friends for no reason other than to see ‘em scream. Eat a mini-Twix bar in the middle of June and raise that candy to Stingy Jack. And as my pumpkin-carving pro Mary would tell you, wear a costume any night of the week, just because you can.

Maybe it’s just me, but I say, creep on, friends. Creep on. All year round.

Thanks for sharing Halloween Town with me this month. And if you ever need a really good scare, just send me an email. I’ll tell you about how the Detroit Lions beat the Washington Redskins … two years in a row. BOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

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.