Mexicans embrace Day of the Dead spectacle in place of Halloween

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Inspired by a James Bond parade scene, festivities including La Catrina are taking over from the once-popular trick or treat

Paul del Castillo strolled down Mexico Citys grand Paseo de la Reforma dressed in a tuxedo and top hat. His wife, Fabiola Martnez, wore a wedding dress. Both had their faces painted as skulls.

Castillo, who runs a small shop, said that he used to celebrate Halloween. But this year the couple plunged into the festivities to mark the Day of the Dead, which in Mexicos main cities is incorporating the fun of Halloween and trading solemn ceremony and private introspection for partying and public spectacle.

I like Halloween. But I like our Mexican culture, our Mexican traditions better, said Del Castillo. This is reviving a Mexican cultural tradition. And its displacing Halloween.

Until recently, some Mexicans fretted that the imported celebration of Halloween would overshadow the Day of the Dead. But the Mexican festival has proved remarkably resilient.

Mexicans mark the day by building altars in their homes, with offerings of food and drink for the departed and they still hold grave-side vigils on 2 November, when they believe their relatives return to visit.

But in the past five years, Dead of the Day has moved out of the graveyard and into the public street, thanks in part to Hollywood.

The Day of the Dead parade in Mexico City was bigger than last years, which was inspired by the James Bond movie Spectre. Photograph: Eduardo Verdugo/AP
The festival features prominently in the new Pixar movie Coco which provoked a flash of outrage during its development when Disney made an abortive attempt to trademark the phrase Day of the Dead.

Mexico City held its first Day of the Dead parade last year, inspired by an episode in the James Bond movie Spectre but embraced by thousands of ordinary participants.

This years event was three times as big, with 700 perfomers who paraded 10km through the city on floats with giant skulls and altars adorned with flowers, and a crowd of 300,000 onlookers. Participants and onlookers dressed as macabre characters such as La Catrina a female skeleton elegantly dressed in 19th-century costume.

Some Mexicans complained that their compatriots especially those in the upper classes only embraced their traditions after Hollywood made it cool. I guess we have a hard time digesting indigenous traditions unless they are made palatable by white cinema, said Jos Merino, a political science professor.

Alejandra Osorno, a teacher dressed up as La Catrina, said: Its kind of embarrassing. How is it possible that someone outside Mexico could come up with this and it didnt occur to us?

Day of the Dead is changing. Its more visible, she added. Im seeing more Day of the Dead and less Halloween.

La Catrina – the elegant skeleton – which represents death, is an important figure in Day of the Dead celebrations. Photograph: Cris Faga/Rex/Shutterstock
There have been other signs of Day of the Deads fight back against Halloween: in shops and schools, seasonal imagery such as pumpkins, black cats and bats have been increasing replaced with Catrinas, skulls and decorative papel picado paper cut banners. Meanwhile, Mexicans advertisers have adopted Day of the Dead imagery for everything from beer to canned goods.

Even the humble markets selling supplies such as sugar skulls, candles and marigolds for home altars and graveyard visits appeared to be stocking more Day of the Dead merchandise than in the past.

About five years ago it seemed like Halloween was taking over, said Shawn Haley, a Canadian anthropologist studying Day of the Dead in Oaxaca state. Every year since there have been fewer and fewer Halloween vendors.

Costume vendors reported brisk sales in Catrinas as opposed to superhero disguises and cartoon characters, which were popular in past years.

Schools are asking for children to come dressed as something more Mexican, said Nancy Gonzlez, who sells costumes in a Mexico City market. Everything thats Mexican seems to be returning.

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