Monday, October 29, 2012

Day of the Dead

As October winds down to its final days, I see several people around Fort Worth decorate pumpkins, witches, and bats in preparation for Halloween. I see children walk into costume shops, excitedly contemplating what terrifying ghoul, daring super hero, or elegant princess they want to dress up as for an evening of trick-or-treating. In all the excitement of candy and horror movies, many of us forget about a day this month that is full of rich history and culture not too far from our own.

Día de los Muertos is the Latin American holiday translated as the "Day of the Dead." There are several similar elements to the modern celebration of Halloween—skeletons, sugar, gatherings—but it is altogether different. The holiday has origins in Native American spirituality and the Catholic holiday of All Souls Day. “It is primarily a special time for families to come together to honor their antepasados, the family members who have died and whose spirits return to visit during these magical days” (Defibaugh). 

In his book, Denis Defibaugh travels to Oaxaca—a region of Mexico still full of over a dozen native languages and cultures—to photograph the people there as they celebrate Día de los Muertos in the streets and in their homes and in the cemetery. The story Defibaugh tells with his photos is a bittersweet one that balances the loss of beloved family members with the vivacious celebration of life. There are the extravagant, if not sometimes grotesque, costumes that give a taste of both individuality and culture of the adults and children who wear them.  There are the altars inside the homes that are decorated with flowers, statues, food, and all manners of different ofrenda (offerings) to honor relatives. 

This is why I love working for TCU Press: the books. The Day of the Dead and Defibaugh’s photos taught me some of the nuances of this Mexican holiday that I didn’t know before. Growing up in Texas this culture is very near and dear to me and I’m glad for the opportunity to learn more about it. It’s almost Halloween, which means it’s almost Día de los Muertos. On that day, when I’m dissecting the candy left over from trick-or-treaters, maybe I’ll think of some of the people I have lost. It’s a nice concept for remembrance to turn something ghoulish and morbid into a celebration of those we love. 

--Megan Doyle

Click here to find out more about Denis Defibaugh's book Day of the Dead: Día de los Muertos, available from TCU Press.

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