Day and Day of the Dead
We remember them all.
I feel bad because I’m not good at Halloween. Most of the blame is on Martha Stewart and the years I subscribed to her magazine. Every month it provided a full-on guilt assault to my weak decorating/organizing/cleaning skills, coupled with total failure to recreate exquisitely frou-frou covered cakes and cupcakes/family and holiday banquets/elaborated hor’s d’oeuvres and brunches. Halloween was especially harrowing. Martha loooovvvvvveeeessssss Halloween. Here’s proof: she achieved the impossible and flabbergasted Bette Midler.
So I gave up and now all I do is plop a store-bought ghostly screaming bride outside the door to scare the bejesus out of the neighborhood kids. And since my bride discourages trick-or-treaters to ring my bell, all the enormous amount of candy I buy keeps my husband and I on a sugar rush until Thanksgiving.
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What I’m really great at is The Day of the Dead. This is not a shock, given my well-documented fondness for graveyards. I learned how to properly celebrate it when, before we moved to this Middle Eastern-packed neighborhood, we lived fifteen blocks away in a heavily Hispanic and Mexican community (reason #4 to love Brooklyn). The weekend before November 1, families set up folding tables along the curb of the main shopping street to sell papel picado banners, incense, candles painted with Our Lady of Guadalupe, sugar skulls, black chalice and bundles of bright orange Mexican marigolds. By now I am fully equipped with everything except for the two bundles of fresh marigolds I purchase the day before.
You may be thinking this is a good example of cultural appropriation but I would point out that the Irish are steeped in their own rituals for the day. I’ll admit, though, that there are major differences. For us, November 1st is All Souls Day and I should be sitting in some church praying, lighting candles, and fasting for all the lost souls in the world, especially for my ancestors and friends who have had the bad luck to be stuck in purgatory. The night before is more festive than the day itself since we founded Halloween and continue to put on riotous parades thick with demonstrations of slaying evil spirits and devils that roam the night. But, as I said, I’m a lousy halloweener. All Souls may involve the ritual of telling stories about our departed and I’m good at that, if I make some details up. Other family members have been known to visit the churchyard to pour some sort of libation over the ancestral plot. Our All Souls Day is somber, colorless, but it is still very much akin to the Day of the Dead—and, really, any other culture’s remembrance of loved ones who wait for us.
Anyway, I just finished decorating my family altar with Mexican marigolds and have hung colorful banners across my front door. My desk is scattered with candy wrappers. Two pan de muertos (great recipe for them) wait on the kitchen counter, along with a bottle of whiskey for a memorial toast.
I will share one other experience about this particular Day of the Dead. To buy the marigolds, I walked along the part of my shopping street that’s filled with somber and scared Middle Eastern neighbors. Soon, a young friend is coming over who hasn’t been sleeping very much because, between her and her partner, they are mourning seven friends from the Supernova Sukkot Gathering massacre and another friend who was kidnaped. They all are remembering this day, too, knowing it won’t be over tomorrow.