The time preceding All Hallow’s Eve is filled with a kind of excitement that surpasses any other festivities. Halloween is not only everyone’s favorite tradition in the States, but it’s become a holiday celebrated in many other countries around the world. What makes this holiday huge here, though, is the big Hollywood-style productions of many haunted attractions and rides that cater to the thriller-searching souls. The Knotts Berry Farm and the Universal Studios transform themselves into horror mayhems and the relatively new Haunted Hayride in Griffith Park offers all the worst nightmares in one chilling ride with zombies, monsters, and ghosts alike. If you’re faint hearted, you probably want to opt for something more mellow, but also very entertaining like the Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) at the Hollywood Forever cemetery. This is the largest celebration of the Mexican tradition of honoring the dead through happy and colorful altars where death takes a lively, friendly expression and is not frightening or strange. Indigenous people of the pre-hispanic cultures of Meso America believed that souls did not die, that they continued living in Mictlán (Place of Death) a special place for them to finally rest. On Dia de los Muertos, the dead return to earth to visit their living relatives. It is believed that although these relatives can’t see them, they can surely feel them.
Altars are incredibly creative and feature anything from the dead person’s pictures and personal effects to sculptures and installations. People also dress up in colorful costumes and make up inspired by the sugar skull art — the folk art style of skulls with big happy smiles, colorful icing and sparkly tin, and glittery adornments.
Last year, I went in my sugar skull make up, too, and had a surreal time walking at dusk by dozens of different altars wrapped in thick incense smoke and eerie music. It was joyful but yet, respectful and it was definitely a new way to see how death is considered by another culture.