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Dia de Muertos and remembering

West Seattle Herald of Seattle, Washington

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Dressing up for Halloween answers the question: if you could be anyone or anything on a merry, frivolous, un-normal night, what would you be A steam punk pirate? Your favorite cartoon character One of Robin Hood's men-in-tights? Even the sexy versions of costumes serve the same purpose, because they are a mask — I would never actually wear this! — and so often times ironic and/or ridiculous. Take that sexy cow costume, called, "In the Mooood!" for example.

Studying abroad in Italy, I witnessed how some non-Americans understand how we celebrate Halloween "American style." That is, costumes and nightclubs as opposed to Catholic mass. I visited the local pub, where an English-speaking vampire sauntered up to me and asked, "Where's your costume?" When I pointed to the cat whiskers I had drawn on with eyeliner at the last minute, he shook his head and insisted, "You have to be scary!"

Because that's the other thing about Halloween There's an element of horror that is widely celebrated and only vaguely justified. Something about keeping the ghosts away Because the fabric between the natural and the supernatural world is now at its thinnest? Sure, as long as I get to carve pumpkins, work the ouija board, dress up, stay out late, watch ridiculously outlandish horror films, and eat candy!

Halloween "American-style" is a thrill, a spectacle, a great party — and a far cry from its origin. Worthy as it is to celebrate fantasy and fun we lose when we lose sight of everything this holiday was originally intended to mean.

I'm not talking about hanging up your fairy wings or wizard cloak in favor of sober, conservative style and a mourning mood. I have my costume picked out and intend to enjoy using it!

But I am talking about death.

Life and death, really More specifically the practise of remembering and honoring the lives of loved ones who are now lifeless.

Of the versions of this I've been exposed to so far, the traditions of

Mexican Dia de Muertos are by far my favorite Altars and offerings, marigolds and sugar skulls — a striking and exuberant juxtaposition of life and death. The fabric between the natural and supernatural world is at its thinnest not because it's that time of year again but because we are paying attention. We paint our faces to resemble skulls not to keep the ghosts away, but rather to commune with them. You — my grandfather, my cousin, my friend — who are no longer with me, live on within me. I acknowledge you, your death, your loss, your past life, and neither of us are alone, or afraid.

It is no small thing to remember. Memories, as fragile and intangible as ghosts, are also alive. The memory of a wound still stings. The memory of a kiss still tingles. The memory of a loved one still conjures the warm ache of love.

Even as death concurs us, we concur death. But even that doesn't really portray the spirit of the holiday. Usually we think of life and death as opposites, where to experience one is to not experience the other. Dia de Muertos rather seems to suggest that life and death can stand next to each other, color and commune with each other. At least because we, people, color and commune with each other over the courses of our intertwined lives. The deaths of those we love becomes a part of us, and it needn't necessarily mean internal conflict. It may mean empowerment, for us to breathe life into the memories of others, and by so doing, honor them.

Amanda Knox is a columnist for the Westside Weekly. She can be reached at

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Original Publication Date: November 6, 2015

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