October 29, 1999
Halloween seen as threat to sacred Mexican holiday

                  MEXICO CITY (Reuters) -- Like their U.S. counterparts, children in
                  Mexico find Halloween irresistible. What could be better than a holiday in
                  which it is OK to dress up in a costume, collect free candy, and skip

                  But as Halloween grows in popularity with each passing Oct. 31, many
                  Mexicans are concerned it is eclipsing a sacred national tradition: Day of the

                  Day of the Dead falls on All Souls Day -- Nov. 2 -- and is celebrated with
                  particular gusto in Mexico, where families visit cemeteries to offer food and
                  flowers for their lost relatives, whose portraits are placed on altars at home.

                  It has centuries of tradition, combining All Souls Day with two pre-Hispanic
                  holidays in honor of the dead. Day of the Dead is a festive rather than sad
                  occasion, and supported by the local Roman Catholic Church.

                  The two holidays have been on a collision course for several years.

                  Kids no longer go trick-or-treating just on Oct. 31, instead extending it up to
                  Day of the Dead. Jack-o'-lanterns have replaced the trademark Day of the
                  Dead skull in supermarkets and on street corners. Witches and goblins
                  adorn many homes instead of the late relative's portrait.

                  "Irreversible" trend

                  "Day of the Dead is a family day. Halloween is a superficial and commercial
                  holiday," said Homero Aridjis, an author and environmentalist who has
                  written critically about the Halloween boom.

                  "I fear that for the moment it is irreversible," he said. "It's a holiday with a
                  tendency to grow."

                  Like many Mexicans, Aridjis has stopped giving out candy, especially after
                  seeing up to 100 children at a time bang on his door long into the night.

                  Others go a step further, posting signs on the door saying they do not honor
                  non-Mexican holidays.

                  Some U.S. influences like McDonald's and American football are popular
                  here, but they will not replace tacos or soccer in Mexican hearts.

                  Halloween, however, is seen as more sinister because it threatens to crowd
                  out a distinctly Mexican and religious tradition.

                  "Halloween is a foreign holiday that is distant from the Latin American
                  mentality and Mexican culture," said Father Sergio Ruiz, head of the local
                  Catholic Church's office on religious customs.

                  "Halloween has found a space here, pressured by all that is behind it: a
                  whole lot of marketing and consumerism," he said.

                  Room for both?

                  Yet Ruiz said he believes Halloween has a long way to go before catching
                  Day of the Dead, especially in the countryside, where Halloween is
                  practically unheard of.

                  At the Kinder Kin preschool in Mexico City, principal Flora Barragan's
                  students celebrate both holidays, and the school uses the occasion to
                  educate the children about their histories.

                  "We like to celebrate both traditions. The kids just love Halloween," she

                  "The problem is that we Mexicans don't conserve our traditions at home. If
                  we put up an altar at home and went to all the effort that we do for
                  Halloween, decorating our homes and inviting the children to knock on our
                  doors, then we wouldn't lose the tradition."

                     Copyright 1999 Reuters.