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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Happy Day of the Dead

Happy Day of the Dead, everyone! Dia de los Muertos is celebrated in Mexico in conjunction with All Saints' Day on November 1 and All Souls' Day on November 2. Think of Halloween on steroids. If you are inclined, put out food and drink for your departed friends and family and enjoy sharing a picnic with them all.

This lesser known holiday (practically unknown for most Americans) is a joyful, upbeat festival for those who know it as part of their culture, complete with sugar candies in the shapes of human skulls or skeletons, picnics in cemeteries and bright colors. Still it seems macabre to those who haven't grown up with the concept, and because it's an unusual, macabre day, the Dia de los Muertos makes an excellent background for setting up unusual and macabre events in your fiction.

I recall how surprised I was when I realized Tennessee Williams was making oblique references to the celebration of the dead in "A Streetcar Named Desire." In Scene Nine, just when things are really getting bad for Blanche, an older Mexican woman, dressed in mourning, appears in the street, selling "Flowers. Flowers for the dead." Blanche reacts with horror because the woman is announcing her fate -- in fact, the fate of all of us, and death is what Blanche fears most.

The arrival of the Mexican woman and the brief mention of the Day of the Dead serve as foreshadowing for what will soon happen to Blanche. We don't have to take our books to Mexico in order to make the same kinds of subtle references that Williams has made.

Let's hope we can use them as well.

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