Oak Park rightly prides itself on being a diverse community, and there's no doubt that pride is usually well-deserved.
Still, we seem to have a relatively small Hispanic population. This deficiency will probably be rectified over time, but it could account for the lack of village stores that offer merchandise for Day of the Dead, which after Christmas and Easter is probably Mexico's biggest holiday.
Day of the Dead, as celebrated on November 1 throughout Mexico, actually represents the confluence of several spiritual traditions. This day has antecedents in the Aztec holiday celebrating Mictecacihuatl, the Queen of the Dead, and the Mayan holiday, Hanal Pixan ("food of the souls"). The date of this holiday also corresponds to the Western European pre-Christian pagan tradition of Samhain as well as the Catholic All Saint's and All Souls Days.
The most identifiable visuals for Day of the Dead are the "calaveras," the merry-making skeletons popularized by Mexican artist Jose Guadaloupe Posada. Calaveras are frequently seen playing musical instruments, getting married, dancing with abandon, and basically doing all the fun stuff we, the living, do on our best days.
It always surprises me when people – Anglos, that is – evince surprise and a little shock that Mexicans are "so comfortable" with such images of the dead. I'm sure people from other cultures are equally shocked that we Americans celebrate a holiday by simulating cemeteries in our front yards or by hanging effigies of bloody corpses from our second story windows.
I was glad to see that Paper Source offers a good range of products in honor of Dia de los Muertos, including skeleton corkscrews, paper cut-outs of skeletons and candy skulls. These candy skulls, though edible, are really more for show than for consumption – they taste pretty much just like sugar, without much additional flavoring. We put ours up year-after-year for Halloween; they last a long time.
I'm all in favor of giving kids a weirder Halloween, and you can also buy such traditional Day of the Dead candy at Dulcelandia in Melrose Park. Dulcelandia has a lot of other unusual candies – like tamarind taffy coated in chili powder and lollipops that look like little roast chickens – all of which make the usual candy bar look pretty boring.
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