Halloween in New York City is always a complex beast. If you live here, you know getting around the Village Halloween Parade can be true hell, especially if you are not actually trying to see it, but rather simply get across 6th Avenue. You know that getting a cab has always been nearly impossible, and getting one in the rain actually was impossible (though Uber changed that this year!). One trend, both among adults in NYC and children on Facebook posts, is that Halloween revelers painted their faces and bodies in traditional Dia de Muertes skeleton styles. Does this portend the commercialization of yet another holiday?
After living in California for many years, I got to know some West Coast and Mexican cultures that East Coasters had not been historically exposed to. Mexican Food that was not Taco Bell or Chili’s; the notion that nobody walks in LA (not true by the way), and the celebration of unique holidays such as Cinco de Mayo and Dia de Muertos, or Day of the Dead.
Cinco de Mayo has been nationally commercialized here in the States. While many Americans do not know what is being celebrated, we’ve managed to make it into a party holiday (surprise, surprise). Cinco de Mayo is not Mexican Independence day as some may think. It is a remembrance of a battle between the Mexicans and the French in 1862. The Mexican army defeated Napoleon’s on Mexican soil in an improbable David and Goliath scenario. Mexico lost the war, but the battle served as a source of great pride, especially among Mexicans in the California region. The holiday was more popular in the US than in Mexico for years, but has since been gaining more attention in Mexico as well.
Like Cinco de Mayo, Day of the Dead was not always fully celebrated throughout Mexico. Dia de Muertes, a celebration that honors those that have passed away, originally occurred earlier in the year and is thought to have originated from pagan practices. The date was changed to coincide with All Hallow’s Eve in order to align better with the Catholic Church, though some rejected the integration of pagan practices into the celebration. Day of the Dead or Dia de Muertos is now a national holiday in Mexico.
Cinco de Mayo was easy to commercialize. The holiday was not as sacred in Mexico. And beer companies, many of which have Mexican brands, discovered good synergy for product promotion. Day of the Dead is rising in popularity in the United States, but is by nature a more sacred holiday. Makers of Halloween costumes might be able to capitalize on the trend, though it can mostly be achieved through face paint, and does not necessarily require a specific costume.
We might see growth of the holiday in regions with expanding Mexican ties, like NYC. Leaving flowers for the dead is part of the holiday tradition, as are colorful headdresses, so perhaps florists can come up with organized product lines to match the spirit of the holiday. Artwork is also a good match with Day of the Dead celebrations, so the art community could participate more in the celebration nationwide. I did note that video game and mobile game developers were offering in-game purchases opportunities tied to Day of the Dead such as avatars and challenges.
Day of the Dead is a bitter-sweet holiday. The tradition is enthralling. If the holiday does becomes commercialized in the US, let’s hope it’s based in honoring those that came before us with thoughts, beauty and art.