5 Things to Know Before You Celebrate the Day of the Dead in Glasgow
1. Don’t confuse it with Halloween
So, that scary final weekend in October is synonymous with two festivals, and they aren’t at all the same thing. There’s plenty of arguments to support that either way, both of them have grown to grotesque proportions under capitalism, become urecognisable to the traditions that they owe their existence to and are a now massive money-making ventures that we all fall for every year. Whether you support this somewhat glum outlook or not, it’s hard to argue with that other big truth which is that dressing up is super fun, and Glaswegians had never really needed much of an excuse to go out and get blootered anyway.
Make sure you are being a little mindful, however, before you start painting your face like a cool skull but not actually being all that sure of where it came from. Halloween on October 31st has its roots in a pagan festival marking the end of the harvest and a coming of darker months. Christian influence over the centuries steered the celebratory aspects of this festival into the scarier aesthetic that is recognisable today. The gap between the worlds of the living and the dead is closed and it becomes difficult to differentiate between those in disguise and sprites from the underworld, which are really to be feared. Death is at the forefront, but it is terrifying rather than comforting to face. The Day of the Dead has roots in Aztec festivals, and is a two day festival celebrated on 1st-2nd November. It is primarily a celebration of the lives of those who have passed, rather than necessarily the dead. In Spanish-speaking countries, altars are made to loved ones, feasts take place in graveyards and time is spent tidying and cleaning graves. Traditionally, the 1st is a celebration of children and infants who have passed away, and the 2nd is for remembering adults. People make sugar skulls as gifts, and eat the favourite foods of those that they are thinking about. Not really the same thing, then.
2. And before we have too much fun, let’s all take a wee moment to check our sugary privilege
Sick of hearing about white privilege? Well, it’s Black History Month, so toughen up a bit and don’t be ignorant. Before we tell you how to find a great sugar skull facepainting tutorial and where the best Scottish mariachi bands are going to be this weekend, we would like to tell you a little story about where the hip Merchant City came from, and how its legacy even has a bit to do with how we might celebrate Day of the Dead today. In the sixteenth century, the Spanish conquistadors brought many things to the countries in what we now call Latin America, and the Catholic aspects now present in the Day of the Dead celebrations were just one of them (with disease and enslavement being some of the others, but that’s a history story for another day!). Mexico might be the home of the dia de los muertos, but the sugar skulls that have become synonymous with it? Sugar isn’t native to Mexico. And this, unfortunately, is where we can see the link to Glasgow. Conditions in the Americas were identified early on, by the Spanish colonialists, as perfect for growing cash crops, of which sugar was one. Fast forward two hundred years and the news has spread. Scotland might have played a huge part in the abolishment of slavery, but did you know that Scots owned a staggering 32% of slaves in Jamaica by 1817? Recent debates have surrounded the fact that the UK hasn’t got the best track record for not sweeping things under the carpet a little, and keeping those rose-tinted glasses firmly on when looking back at the past. Glasgow was ‘built on the back of slavery’, and the signs are still everywhere, not even that well-hidden. Glassford, Jamaica, Buchanan and Virginia Streets? All slave-owning families or places important to the slave trade. The Glasgow Museum of Modern Art used to be a tobacco trader’s residence. Tobacco and cotton might have been the biggest, but Scots were also making big bucks off the sugar trade in Latin America with slaves taken from Africa. In Mexico, the sugar that was being grown and sold to the West was the only thing plentiful enough to be used to celebrate indigenous festivals by creating beautiful little skulls. Whether you think this link is tenuous or not, well done for reading this far, and maybe if someone compliments your skull paintwork this weekend, you could take some time out of partying to talk about the history not just of the festival you’re celebrating, but the part (albeit guiltily) that this city might have played in those traditions, too.
3. There are several parties to choose from – but be quick as the tickets are running low!
The biggest? Saint Luke’s. This beautiful converted church will host several acts, facepainting, cocktails, food and performances to bring the day of the dead to life. It’s sold out, so you’ll need to keep an eye on the Facebook page for any ticket resales, and more info is still available here.
Mercado Tapas Bar are collaborating with live salsa demonstrations and plenty of food and drink – click here for more details.
Biba’s Cantina will be celebrating this weekend with free food for kids on Sunday, and colouring, puzzles and masks on both days, as well as delicious Mexican food and drink, of course!
Boteco do Brasil will host their celebrations on Monday 31st with their signature beautiful latin tunes going all the way to 3am.
Topolabamba also have the party going strong with events all weekend long, check out the poster below for more.
4. Now that we’ve done the research, it’s time to get painting
Here are some of our favourite makeup tutorials. The sugar skull is an imitation of the gifts photographed earlier, and the Catrina, pictured directly above, is a little different, being inspired by the work of a Mexican 20th century artist, which you can find out more about here.
5. And don’t forget to have fun!
For the lucky ones who have bagged a ticket to Saint Lukes, keep an eye out for the marvellous Glasgow Mariachis, Rapido Mariachi. No matter how you choose to celebrate, Glasgow is a wonderful place to do it, and we hope you have a great one.