Halloween in New Mexico is a little different. For one thing, art is in the air and water here. You can’t avoid it, and it’s catching. I have never done much decorating for Halloween, and previously limited myself to handing out enough candy to trick-or-treaters to delight dentists for months to come.
Since moving to Albuquerque, I’ve gone a little crazy. My personal best, Halloween division, was dressing a 5 foot tall, almost anatomically correct plastic skeleton for Halloween. We got it at Costco, and three considerations struck me: 1) this is the Southwest, 2) Halloween comes immediately before Día de los Muertos, and 3) this articulated, posable skeleton was just slightly shorter than the average Conquistador. You can see where this is going. So I dressed him in a 16th century linen shirt, trunk hose (a/k/a pumpkin pants), a matching jerkin, and black velvet flat cap, and sat him in a rustic wooden arm chair, right in front of the door, with sword. Much more elegant than a warty witch on a broomstick or an inflatable plastic pumpkin.
This year, one of our local supermarkets has an articulated, five foot (stretched out full length, I assume) plastic stegosaurus skeleton in their Halloween aisle. It’s already come down in price. I’m hoping that if it’s there the day after Halloween, it will be more steeply discounted yet. My housemate has already bought a large, hairy spider—No! not a real one!—which we will position on the porch overhang. Let me be honest, here: I will be the one on the ladder.
Halloween is followed by Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead, which celebrates loved ones who have died. And “celebrates” is an appropriate word: this is not a morbid or even solemn festival. Tradition calls for the construction of an ofrenda (offering), a sort of altar. According to Remezcla at represent the four elements: fire (candles), wind (papel picado), earth (food), and water.” Sugar skulls, marigolds and incense are also traditional., while the ofrenda may contain all kinds of things—a photograph and some object of significance to the person (like a baseball for a baseball player or a toy for a child), it should also contain things that “
My housemate and I set up an ofrenda on the sideboard every year. We drape it with lace panels, hang a string of papel picado and often little LED lights, and put out photographs of deceased family members, interspersed with little pumpkins, autumn flowers, candy or other treats they liked, water, and battery-operated candles. We also include symbols of heroes: a model space shuttle, a miniature fireman’s helmet and a police car for first responders, pictures of people we admire who have died within the past year.
The traditional food is pan de muerto, bread of the dead. It’s a slightly sweet Mexican bread, made in a round loaf, with dough formed into “bones” crossed on top. The supermarket where we buy a loaf or two every year sells them in a couple of different sizes, “medium bread of death” and “large bread of death”, and they’re covered in very vividly colored sugar. Last year we got the deep purple ones, rather than the Dayglo pink or yellow-orange.
Dia de los Muertos is actually celebrated over several days, from October 31 to November 2. Here in Albuquerque, the Open Space Visitor Center puts up an ofrenda honoring deceased “Heroes of the Environment”, the South Valley neighborhood holds a Dia de los Muertos Celebration and Marigold Parade, and the National Hispanic Cultural Center is holding an exhibition, community offrenda and screening of the Disney/Pixar movie, Coco. And those are just a few of the activities.