Tuesday, August 22nd 2017

Dancing with the invisible ones

Dia de los Meurtos is my annual chance to dance with spirits in the material world

dayofdead1.JPGDANNY KENNY — After reverent invocation to the spirits, the samba-like beat pulsates through the snake of flesh coiled in waiting. Slowly it begins stretching, swallowing innocent bystanders and eager collaborators alike in its path.

Aztec warriors rub shoulders with zombie-like creatures, and sartorial Calaveras (skulls) fall prey to its slithering mass. All seem mesmerized by its hypnotic charms, twisting and gliding rhythmically from its head to its tail through the candlelit San Francisco streets to their symbolic place of death.

It’s a melding of worlds: ancient Mesoamerica meets modern North America. The drums, brass and heaving human mass fall eerily silent, as our great serpent reaches its final of all finally peaceful destinations here in the city: A park full of painstakingly, lovingly and symbolically decorated shrines, which replace the cemetery that on all other days of the year is the eternal resting place for the actual dead.

The idea of celebrating in or on the way to a cemetery may seem as odd as two left shoes or as distasteful as three-day old tamales. But to Latino communities around the world, including the vibrant one here in San Francisco, it’s as natural as the day is long. In short: It’s a chance for us living types to party with the spirits of the dead.

Dia de los Meurtos is an international holiday, and a major family occasion that involves days, sometimes weeks of preparation (and, come to think of it, a lifetime of prep for some participants).

So in the spirit of “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander,” the same can be said of the living and the dead. Thus, when people commune with the spirits, they bring their best treats and top-shelf juice, which typically includes homemade tamales, sugar skulls and mescal.

As with any good family occasion, you don’t want to upset your relatives with shop bought empanadas or try to palm off cheap tequila on that that favorite uncle or grandfather. In this case, you may never hear the end of it. Remember the old proverb, “Where there’s a will there’s a relative.” Just as with weddings, on The Day of The Dead, they are all bound to show up, so be prepared.

The pan de muerto (The bread of the dead) is the jewel in the crown and many dannybread.jpgbaked loafs in the shape of a person. Many believe it’s good luck to bite into the plastic skeleton hidden inside, which for some of the Anglo hippies in attendance gives a whole new meaning to the word Deadhead.

Our celebration drew a spirited and diverse slice of the city, with nearly all seeming to enjoy biting into a sugar skull as much as the next man, woman or transgender person. These treats were traditionally intended for the deceased, apparently posthumously famous for their sweet teeth.

But the custom, like many others, has evolved over time and taken on, well, a life of its own. Nowadays, it’s now even better if the skull has your own name on it. The belief is that the person who takes a bite of him or herself symbolically takes a bite of death, which, in turn, immunizes them from a fear of death.

Whatever helps, I say. I’m already looking forward to next year.


Danny Kenny is a writer,novelist, practicing Pagan witch and fesitival-goer who lives in San Francisco.

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7 Comments on “Dancing with the invisible ones”

  1. Will I tell Bill McCormick you can't do thurifer at half ten on Sunday, then?

  2. Nice one Dan, when are you up next?

  3. this tradition is probably a lot healthier than what i (and most of my clan of wasps) do regarding our dead loved ones...ie. try not to think about them and rarely, if ever visit their resting places. but i dunno, it seems to be working for me, so far.

  4. Good read - thanks

  5. Yo Bro,

    Too cool to live dude. Keep up the good stuff!!

  6. I am also looking forward to next year's celebration, and hope to see you there! Why fear? Let's celebrate!

  7. Nice work there, my man.

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