You may have encountered sugar skull props, makeup packs, and costumes at your local store or pop-up Halloween shop and most likely brushed it off as another costume option, but seldom have you thought about the origins or even if it is right to dress up as a sugar skull for Halloween. Also, that sugar skull makeup that beauty gurus like to give directions on is called calavera and is meant to mock death, not necessarily impress your friends.
The history behind Dia de Los Muertos is very rich, and the days of celebration are often very important to those who celebrate. Dia de Los Muertos is a latinx holiday, primarily Mexican, held from November 1 to November 2.
During this time, alters are set up with special flowers, candles, sugar skulls, and various foods and drinks. The entire premise of the holiday is to celebrate life after death and that death is a part of the human experience. It is not a time to mourn but to reconnect with past and present family.
For many in the latinx community who celebrate, this holiday is more than just a one night costume or craft to do with friends while drinking tequila. That is why the Spanish language department has been having these colorful alters displayed in the library for the past four years. This year was the first time it was held in Founders Lounge due to construction, but also to help stir the conversation and confusion around the holiday itself.
Dia de Los Muertos is often called the “Mexican Halloween”, but it is not even held on the same day as commercial Halloween, and rather than trying to scare off evil spirits, Day of the Dead is a time of happiness, joy, family, and fun. Dressing up on Day of the Dead is meant to mock death and show it that there is no fear of death, something that does contrast Western death ideas.
Dia de Los Muertos is not a holiday that many latinx communities try and keep from others. For the alters done on campus, anyone was able to submit photos of loved ones, as it was not specifically to Mexican students on campus, and it is this invitation to participate that gets lost.
Want to learn more about the holiday and even participate? Attend Day of the Dead events held by latinx communities and people rather than “themed” parties that are flowing with “Mexican” alcoholic drinks. Ask your latinx friends, if they celebrate, why. Who do they do it for? Who taught them about the holiday?
At the end of the night, if you want to just be a colorful skeleton and drink tequila, do not do calavera makeup or wear Day of the Dead items, steer clear of the section at stores, and be cognisant of how you might look to others. Cultural appropriation is costume deep; cultural appreciation is community deep.