Day of the Dead Festival: Desecrated, for your pleasure

Celebrating the dead is common to most cultures worldwide. Mexico holds the enduringly popular Day of the Dead on October 31st, which has had a recent surge in popularity throughout the English-speaking world. It might be because of the wholesome practice of remembering loved ones who’ve passed away, but it’s almost definitely just because their stuff looks cool. This cultural appropriation has led to events like the Edinburgh Festival of the Dead: a very bizarre, action-packed, drunk and debauched dance party.

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Proud witch and boyfriend, both making maximum effort

The pictures give a taste of the Day of The Dead’s idiosyncratic look. The real question: are people fascinated by this because it’s a colourful take on a dark topic, or is it because skulls are totally rad? I may be simplifying the issue. Loving the style of the Day of the Dead does not exclude one from appreciating the message. For example: I met a lovely woman [pictured right]  who was dressed in full Day of the Dead regalia. I expressed understandable confusion about walking into a building full of people dressed as Rave Skeletons. The woman then told me that she was a witch, and knew all about the Day of the Dead.

She explained how on October 31st, the barrier between the worlds of the living and the dead is at its thinnest, and this is why most cultures have their “spooky holiday” around this time – Pitri Paksha in Hinduism, Halloween in Christianity, and Samhain in Paganism. She added that as a witch, October 31st was actually her new year, and assured me that she was a good or “white” witch and therefore wouldn’t do any curses. Then she gave us cool free masks, so I trust her wholeheartedly.

This conversation would imply that there was an ongoing interest in the spirituality of The Day of the Dead. However, the conversation took place while we were standing in the line for booze. Don’t get me wrong: I’m all for drinking and dancing. I just feel like when you name your event after what is – for an entire country of people – a solemn and respected pseudo-religious festival, and then you have that event be a non-stop late-night techno-fest with acrobats and sexy dancers and DJs, it’s somewhat disrespectful. The MC for the night brought a dude onstage to do tequila shots with him. Is that part of the Mexican tradition? Somehow I doubt it.

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If you look closely you’ll see that the arm on the right is in fact a detached mannequin arm, as is tradition in Mexico

 

The show itself was pretty good. But the sheer amount of debauchery involved meant I felt I had to write something about the divide between what the name means and what this event was. At one point, the MC held out a large bag of fake cocaine, and after several jokes, was dragged bodily offstage by dancers in risqué police costumes. This was followed by a DJ set. If this had been a Halloween ‘Techno Night’ with the same amount of drinking and costumes, I would’ve thought that was really cool! But they just had to call it the Festival of the Dead, and reference all the Dia de Muertos stuff. It’s not Dia de Muertos

“Festival” is absolutely bang on though: the disclaimer here is that the event was great fun and absolutely fascinating to see, cultural appropriation aside. If the show ever comes back to Edinburgh, by all means go for the lights and music and performance, because it’s one hell of a show they put on. But don’t go for the traditional Mexican values. There’s not a lot of those.

For a less ranty explanation of the event, see Iona Young’s overview here: https://en4news.com/2018/10/02/festival-of-the-dead-comes-to-edinburgh/

By Bryce Arthur

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