October 29th, 2006

Day of the Dead

When I was writing The Halloween Encyclopedia, I was somewhat dismayed by one article on Day of the Dead celebrations in Los Angeles that suggested they were better than Halloween celebrations. "Just another trendoid's proclamation," I scoffed.

Now, after attending the Dia de Los Muertos celebration last night at Hollywood Memorial Cemetery, I'm not so sure, because this was just all kinds of fun.

Unfortunately we came on a tight schedule, with no camera and little money, but even in just 90 minutes of soaking up sights we had a fabulous time. The event is large, drawing 20,000 people in its one night, and takes up about half of the large cemetery (which was cool, because that meant we had to walk through the dark half to get there - an unlit cemetery at night! YAY!). The festivities consisted of vendors selling gorgeous jewelry, clothing, and arts & crafts, food and drink, live musical performances (the group we listened to was so damn good I promptly went online today to find out about them, but unfortunately Grupo Centeotl, with their rich blend of rancho, folk and mariachi, are nowhere to be found), Aztec ceremonial dancers, art displays within the mausoleums (how cool is that?!), and lots of ofrendas. For those of you who don't know, ofrendas are traditional altars set up to celebrate the deceased during Dia de Los Muertes. In Mexico ofrendas are often astonishingly complex and beautiful, and I'm pleased to say that L.A.'s homegrown ofrendas were equally gorgeous. There must have been over 50, and they ran the gamut from huge and very traditional (with fruit, yellow marigolds or zempaschuitl, skulls, bamboo poles creating arches, photos and decorations, rising nearly twenty feet on tiers), to contemporary and even punk (an ofrenda was amusingly built around Johnny Ramone's memorial statue). There was even one magnificent tribute to masked Mexican wrestlers of the past, staged in part by faustfatale, that was a lovely and whimsical piece of folk art, and which I hope scored a prize in the ofrenda competition.

Tonight we'll celebrate the Halloween part of the season with trips to The House at Haunted Hill and Boney Island...but it'll be hard to match the Dia de Los Muertos goodness this year.