I Won’t Be Celebrating Halloween
On chocolate, calaveras and cultural appropriation
My neighborhood is slowly being lit with the glow of purple and orange lights on homes, mimicking the colors of our dusty, Arizona sunsets. Ghostly sounds have started emanating from craft store sale finds that decorate doorways on my street. Decorations are a good deal right now.
I used to love this. Once, I turned my front lawn into a graveyard. Made faux marble tombstones with clever sayings. Boarded up my windows with leftover wood from construction sites. Attached cheap cotton spider webbing to anything that would stay still for even three minutes.
This year, I’m not doing it. Something has soured me on it. It was a group of ignorant parents.
These parents put forth a petition to change the date of Halloween. Tens of thousands of people signed it. They contended that Halloween was a holiday for kids and should always fall on the last Saturday in October so that it’s not a school night, parents are less stressed and it’s safer.
Well, that’s some bullshit.
Look, I’m all for children’s safety. Don’t get me wrong. But Halloween isn’t a children’s holiday any more than Christmas. October 31st has significance as the first of three days in which we remember, honor, respect and celebrate the dead. It’s followed by All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day. It’s amazingly beautiful. But, our kids don’t care and neither do we.
We’ve turned Halloween into nothing more than plastic costumes and buckets full of candy. You don’t get to change the traditional date you celebrate something to make it more convenient. That’s not how it works.
When the beauty of something like celebrating lost souls gets thrown by the wayside, it makes we want more of it. I have ideas. They’re just a little south of where I am.
Growing up in Arizona, Mexican culture is everywhere. Some of it is kitschy and bastardized, like in the expensive shops in Old Town Scottsdale where tourists from the Midwest eye Mexican ponchos along side cowboy boots made in Texas.
Tourists don’t realize they can drive two and a half hours south and cross the border, haggle a Mexican blanket for half the price and eat the most delicious tacos you may ever have from the cart outside of Licores Vasquez in Sonoyta. It’s worth the trip.
There’s authenticity, too. Like the carniceria behind Phoenix Children’s Hospital where, on Sundays, people bring their own pot to take home menudo and no one speaks English. You better know how to order in Spanish.
It may make me sound grumpy and like I’ve lost all sense of fun and frivolity, but this year, I’m bypassing Haloween and I’m forgoing scary monsters and welcoming in better spirits. I’ll be celebrating Dia de Muertos.
I’ve had a blessed life where I haven’t lost too many loved ones. Granted, I don’t have a very big family. My mother’s mother is the only one I’ve mourned.
But I’ve lost friends and people I love. They’re people whose spirits touched my heart and made me a better person for having known them. Instead of scaring off the living, I want to invite back those beautiful souls.
I’ll carve out space to decorate a small altar. Line up laughing, dancing calaveras in brightly colored dresses playing stringed instruments. Forgo the darkness for vivid color. Sit with this and the memories of those I loved.
I’ll spend that Saturday baking breads and there will be tequila in honor of my big friend Xavier that I lost way too soon and miss way too much. He’d laugh at me for doing this but he’d love me for it. He would have insisted on joining me and would have brought music that lead heavy with the tuba. That was his thing.
My 15 year-old daughter tells me this is cultural appropriation. She’s progressive and sensitive to things like this. Her circle of friends is incredibly diverse and she understands her white girl privilege.
We’re not Mexican, she tells me. No, but I’ve grown up in the desert dust if the Sonoran Southwest. So has she. Honoring our neighbors to the south has been part of our state’s culture since before we were a state.
If there’s one thing Americans have gotten really good at it’s stealing other cultures and claiming them for ourselves. St. Patrick’s Day from the Irish, Oktoberfest from the Germans, and Cinco de Mayo from the Mexicans who don’t even celebrate it. Why the hell would Americans celebrate Cinco de Mayo?
We stole Halloween, too. It belonged to the Celts and we twisted and turned their tradition into a modern day carnival. If you’re going to adopt the celebrations of another culture, for God’s sake, do it for a reason that makes sense and respects the intention.
Sometimes, living should be about the dead. We celebrate people we lose when we lose them. Then we go about life and they slip away. Here and there we think of them, but maybe not often. This celebration makes me happy. It’s how I make my soul feel a little less dark.