Many are asking what will be the impact of the commercialization of Day of the Dead? While Day of the Dead involves very private rituals, there are public policy and nationalistic aspects to the celebrations. There are showcase altars everywhere, parades, sandpaintings, costume competitions and entertainment organised for cemeteries. There is profit to be made from Day of the Dead tours.
Will the act of “marketing” “authentic Oaxacan culture be responsible for changing it?
Kristin Norgent sees two deeply intertwined futures “One of them will be polished, public, official, and increasingly rooted in tourism: a package ready for leisured consumption. The other will continue to be private and intimate: a communal devotion of various members of the popular classes…No doubt, one aspect of the celebration will serve to reinforce the other, perhaps even happily.”
‘Days of Death, Days of Life’ p. 263
We were in New York the week before we came to Oaxaca and were shocked by the pumped up commercial energy around Halloween. We have seen the slow growth of Halloween in Sydney but were unprepared for the costume party shops, the decoration of houses and shops, the zombies and death images everywhere.
In Oaxaca we saw market stalls outside cemeteries selling plastic pumpkins, witch masks and satanic decoration. Roaming the streets and cemeteries we met devils, glowing vampires, mummies, zombies. This was thematically linked to Day of the Dead but part of the great costume party that is Halloween.
Some see this trend as being a threat to the authenticity of Day of The Dead rituals and the role of these celebrations for nationalistic identity politics. For others it is the logical outcome of the commercialisation and the globalization of culture, particularly among young people. Globalization has meant both the promotion of a distinct Mexican national identity through Day of the Dead activities and the infiltration of profit based Halloween from the United States.
The debate about Halloween has been going on since before the 1980s and will be ongoing. Meanwhile we read that not only has American Halloween infiltrated south of the border, Day of the Dead celebrations and rituals have travelled north with Mexican migration.
We happened across these young people preparing for what we first thought was a Halloween costume parade. Here it can be hard to tell what skulls and skeletons refer to, but as we looked more closely we saw many traditional Day of the Dead motifs. Apart from some dressed up as priests there were no religious references.
We were impressed by the care they took over their make up and the creativity of their outfits. As they joined many others in the street, there was an even more complex fusion of traditional indigenous motifs and Halloween. We would expect this as Oaxacan young people are steeped in the zombies, vampires and ghouls of American cinema.