Día de Los Muertos has nothing to do with Halloween, despite their proximate dates and common focus on death. The Meso-American festival was over 3,000 years old when the Spanish Conquistadors encountered it in what is now Mexico. The celebration honored family members who had passed onto the other side of existence and reflected the belief that life was a dream, death, the time of awakening, a passage to be celebrated. The piled offerings on the colorful altars you’ll see represent the four elements. Food is earth, to attract and feed departed souls; water is provided to quench their thirst. The tissue paper cutouts symbolize the wind (air); and candles, fire.
Halloween, on the other hand, is thought to have evolved from an old Gaelic festival known as “Samhain,” or Summer’s End, held between the 31st of October and November 1st. Samhain was a harvest festival rooted in Celtic polytheism. In this season of diminishing light and dying crops, the Gaels believed that the portal between the natural and the supernatural worlds was temporarily removed and the dead could walk freely among the living. Masks and costumes were worn to impersonate or appease roaming spirits. The Romans eventually grafted their festivals of Feralia, commemorating the passage of the dead, and Pomona, honoring the goddess of fruit and trees, onto the Celtic celebrations. Halloween today is a pastiche of these past influences: acknowledging the terror of walking amongst the dead and exalting the harvest.
I’m a sucker for Halloween. As a kid, it was all about candy, filling a pillowcase, sorting and trading the spoils, then eating the bounty for days until the very thought of one more Sugar Baby made me slightly ill. From my college years forward, it’s been about the costumes and the creativity: crafting my own and looking out for the clever interpretations of current events and wild bursts of extroverted identity play. But whether by costumes and candy or altars and offerings, both holidays offer outlets for creative expression and celebration that make this weekend a great time to be in circulation.
Tonight, Friday, October 19th, head over to El Museo Cultural de Santa Fe, 555 Camino de la Familia, downtown in the Railyard district. From 6-10 pm, enjoy an all-ages celebration of Dia de Los Muertos with food, sugar skull face painting, fire dancing, music and sundry delights. While you’re there, don’t miss Papel Picado the work of Catalina Delgado Trunk and Christopher Gibson in Axle Contemporary’s gallery on wheels. Watch Delgado Trunk share the story behind one piece in this brief, charming YouTube by Axle Contemporary.
“..grotesque and messily visceral, purposefully perverse and imbued with a gruesome wit,” Katherine Lee’s exhibit, Animal Violence and Topless Women Eating Jam opens Friday at Eight Modern, 231 Delgado Street. Reception from 5-7 pm. Don’t miss Inner Demons II “a group art show celebrating the macabre, the disconcordant and the uncanny” at Alahenia Studios, 1422 Second Street.
On Saturday, whether your taste runs to dressing-up or just watching the show, there are plenty of venues for savoring the creative spirit of the holiday. The Santa Fe Reporter hosts its 2010 Halloween Party at Milagro, with a raffle, music, and costume contest. Donation proceeds benefit Esperanza Shelter for Battered Families. Baca Street Studios hosts the Second Annual Halloween Hooha, from 6-12 pm at 926 Baca Street. Shops and Studios will be open late. You’ll have another chance to check out Axle Contemporary’s Papel Picado exhibit. Plus “Music with RosS Hamlin and DJDirtgirl!, Fires and Fire dancer!s, Possible sighting of the White Dragon Noodle Bar! Bring a wish (or trouble) to burn in the Giant Cauldron!” Rumor has it that the Big Gay Halloween Party at RainbowVision’s Silver Starlight Lounge, 500 Rodeo Road, is the best costume party in town. A benefit for Santa Fe Pride.