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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Day of the Dead shows we need not fear death

    For those Southern Arizonans who feel unsatisfied by the distinctly American celebration of death and the supernatural that is Halloween, the two days immediately following may be something to look into. On Nov. 1 and Nov. 2, the Catholic All Saints’ and All Souls’ days, are celebrated in Mexico as the Day of the Dead. Sometimes mistaken for Mexico’s version of Halloween, it is instead an utterly different phenomenon.

    Both are concerned with the spirits of the dead, but the real difference is in the attitude of the living. Halloween does not so much honor death as the fear of death. As for the Day of the Dead, death and the dead themselves are the ones being honored. This approach seems to be the healthier one, and the one that ought to be embraced.

    Here on the northern side of the border, the one-night-long return of the ghosts of the once living is greeted with a collective screech of terror. The spirits of those gone are objects of horror and revulsion, indistinct from beasts from the depth of our nightmares and commanded by the Devil himself. The gulf of death irreversibly separates the living from the no longer so.

    Once shuffled off this mortal coil, the existence of a person on earth, if believed in at all, takes on a sinister and disgusting quality. Death transfigures the concept of a human soul into something not human, but actually inhuman. The fear of spirits inherent in Halloween seems to suggest that, once a person passes on, they must either cease to exist or go off somewhere else. Otherwise, you will be greeted on your return by uncomprehending horror and lumped in with creatures humans made up solely for the purpose of scaring themselves.

    Ghosts are an implausible theory at best, but even the staunchest skeptics tend to buy into the mass choreographed hysteria that is Halloween. We’re so afraid of dead versions of ourselves sharing the Earth with us that our fear does not abate even when we believe that they don’t exist. Not only that, but we feel compelled to dedicate an entire day to that fear, engaging in behaviors that seem, in spirit, relatively unchanged from the pagan traditions that gave rise to Halloween in the first place.

    This is not to suggest that Halloween is inherently bad, of course. There are plenty of chances to sidestep the strange psychological and metaphysical questions the day raises and just have a good time. But the societal difficulty in dealing with death that is suggested by Halloween is somewhat troubling. Surely there’s a way to exist more peaceably with our own mortality? There certainly is, and the days dedicated to it conveniently fall immediately after Halloween.

    Though at first pass the differences seem minute, the philosophical underpinnings between the Day of the Dead and Halloween couldn’t be more dissimilar. The dead return to Earth on these days, as well, but they come bearing no malice, and they are welcomed with open arms. It is like a homecoming of the deceased, complete with all the festivities that the return of a long lost friend would entail. They are the guests of honor for a party everyone participates in. When their day draws to a close, the dead are sent away with a fond farewell and an invitation to do it all again next year.

    If we’re just looking for a way to have a fun weekend, Halloween or the Day of the Dead both offer equally good opportunities. If the goal is to find the best way to exist with death as a reality, then El Dia del Muerte is the better alternative. Fearing death seems to carry with it the idea that death might just be avoidable if it is feared hard enough. The hard news is that it’s not. All things living will someday be dead. That can be read as a morbid statement, certainly, but for the purposes of sanity it might be easier to see it as a call to action.

    By inviting the dead back into their lives for a day, the revelers on the Day of the Dead come to grips with the fact that they too will no longer list Earth as their permanent address. So here’s to the dead and gone, and to their having a good time, and not being feared, on their one night back on the planet. We’ll be joining them all too soon.

    — Andrew Conlogue is a junior studying philosophy, politics, economics and law. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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