Day of the Dead, Hallowe’en and death

What’s the connection between Day of the Dead, Hallowe’en and death?

Day of the Dead is a Mexican festival to remember and celebrate our loved and lost. Making offerings at shrines, grave tending, sharing food and storytelling are all part of the ritual, designed to help heal and remember. Hallowe’en is our version. In my youth, it was a festival of dressing up and going out knocking on doors, performing a turn and gathering nuts and apples. It was an act to chase away spirits to clear the air for All Saints Day. At their core, they both festivals are all about death, though you’d hardly think it when you look at the huge family-friendly celebrations they have become, all across the globe.

This Saturday, I’ll be playing with Beat That drummers for Paisley’s fabulous Hallowe’en festival – a great spectacle of light, performance, music, a procession through the streets and fun for all the family. We’ll be appropriating a bit of the Mexican vibe, in our blacks and skeleton nods.

This is what happens. Over time, rituals become appropriated, picked up, transformed, re-presented, modernised, commercialised. There’s nothing new in that. The church did it with pagan rituals, rebranding all the way.

When I started researching death rituals when Final Fling launched 6 years ago, Day of the Dead felt quite foreign as a festival. In 2013, we ran Scotland’s first Day of the Dead Festival with Glasgow’s Gallery of Modern Art. Since then, the world has moved on considerably. Our streets this weekend will be full of people dressed up Day of the Dead style. Supermarkets and shops are more likely to carry Day of the Dead lines than they are to sell monkey nuts and apples.

I mourn the loss of the past… our old fashioned Hallowe’en masks (the days before plastic, made of egg carton type material) and the great spooky fun of traipsing across country roads dressed up in homemade outfits (not ready made shipped in from China), big families creating safety in numbers, chapping doors and gathering fruit, the whole community caught up in the excitement. But hey ho, the world moves on. Kids will be forming their own memories on Saturday and one day, our procession through Paisley will be their good old days and the next generation will be onto the next thing. That’s life.

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