Dias de Los Muertos
Although I possess no Mexican or Hispanic ancestry (despite the fact that I've occasionally been mistaken for having such an heritage; my mother-in-law initially thought my mother and I were of Latino background, and at a work retreat years ago, I entered a discussion about genealogy with a co-worker who thought I was of partial Californio descent), I enjoy the culture, foods, and traditions from south of the border. I think a lot of it has to do with being a native Californian, and being comfortable with the region's heritage. My grandmother's half-sister is Mexican, though, and she told me once that it was one of her favorite holidays. She enjoyed the special skeleton-shaped cookies and pan dulce the confectioners created, the bunches of poppies, marigolds, lilies, poinsettias, and other flowers that are draped on and around the graves, and the communion with ancestors and departed ones at the cemetery.
What I find interesting about the celebration is its comfort level regarding death; while many Western societies hold death as something to fear, the celebrants during Dias de Los Muertos absorb death and dying, if not necessarily embracing it. I wish I had as healthy an attitude sometimes.
At Olvera Street, the evening ceremonies are out on the old Plaza, at the heart of the oldest part of what is now a region several times larger than Rhode Island. Circling the bandstand are homemade altars, some of which honor family patriarchs, while others mourn those whose lives have ended far too soon. Dancers and participants dress in Aztec or Mexican-style costumes, their faces blackened and painted over with white skull markings, or otherwise shrouded by black scarves and hoods. They circumnavigate the plaza in a solemn procession, stopping every so often to mark the circle of life and death, and honor those who have gone before us. When we went last year, there was a huge section filled with candles, each one honoring a victim of the ongoing murders in and around Ciudad Juárez; it was rather moving and sobering.
Someday I'd like the opportunity to visit a town or village in Mexico and be there during Dias de Los Muertos, and experience it from a purely Mexican perspective; while I enjoy my outings to Olvera Street, there's always reminders everywhere that I'm in Los Angeles, and Olvera Street, for all its supposed authenticity, is still essentially a tourist area.
UPDATE: I was able to find a web page that has some pictures from last night's bash in WeHo. Here you can get an idea of the crowds I wandered amongst last night!