By Dannely Flores Kramer, Account Planning Director
As we step into the month that jump starts the holiday season, November 2nd represents an important celebration within the Hispanic culture that is increasingly influencing the mainstream, Día de los Muertos or Day of the Dead. Day of the Dead is a popular holiday among many Mexicans and Mexican Americans, and also in other Latin American countries. Although it may sound contradictory, the holiday is all about honoring life by celebrating death.
As a US-born Mexican who spent much of my youth south of the border, I’ve celebrated Día de los Muertos for many years. The holiday focuses on friend and family gatherings who pray for and remember loved ones who have passed away and help encourage their final spiritual journey. It’s often characterized by shrines or altars that are set up at the center of the house with pictures of those who have passed, accompanied with food, candy skulls (calaveras) and other things the departed enjoyed in life. The holiday culminates by taking flowers to their graves and sharing their favorite dishes with those who are still alive.
This year at Dieste, we had an altar constructed in the atrium full of candles, candy and pan dulce. Diestenites themselves began filling it with pictures of loved ones, iconic musicians and even symbolic images like the Puerto Rican flag, in the wake of Hurricane Maria.
It is a beautiful tradition and given the growing influence of Hispanics on mainstream culture, the significance of this holiday continues to grow in the US beyond its Mexican roots. The fashion and entertainment industries were some of the first to use Day of the Dead as inspiration, from Fashion Shows to “So You Think You Can Dance” themed choreographies to big screen movies, “Book of Life” (2014) and soon to be released Disney & Pixar’s “Coco”(2017).
Focusing on unique dates like this one, brands can aspire to create higher levels of emotional connections with cultural groups who share an interest and appreciation for significant holidays. However, it’s important to proceed with caution in order to not fall into the culture appropriation trap. Honestly, it’s hard to keep up with the endless uses of Day of the Dead imagery and symbolism these days.
The holiday has already become conflated with Halloween (it is not Mexican Halloween), and is even being accused of falling into a “retail vortex.” And as some may recall, Disney quickly realized the toll of appropriation when the company attempted to trademark the actual holiday a few years ago.
No doubt, Day of the Dead continues to offer an inspiring story that people across cultures can’t resist; from the beautiful sugar skulls and rich color of the marigolds, paired with the allure of the conversation around death unlike that of mainstream American culture, it is no surprise. In essence, when celebrated in a genuine and culturally appropriate manner, brands can connect more deeply with the people it matters to most.