This coming week, we celebrate two of my favorite holidays, Halloween and Dia de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead. Below is a calaveras skeleton I bought at the Day of the Dead celebration in Mesilla, New Mexico three years ago.
As a horror writer, it’s perhaps no surprise that I really enjoy the thrills and chills of Halloween. When I was a kid, though, it was a bit of a forbidden thrill. My dad was raised to believe that Halloween was a pagan tradition and I never sensed he was entirely comfortable with it. My mom never had a problem with the holiday and I regularly dressed up and went out trick-or-treating. The first Halloween I can remember, I dressed up as a spooky black cat. Perhaps that explains why some of my vampires transform into cats and why a big mountain cat rounds out my poem “Alone with the Astronomer Ghosts,” which you can listen to here: http://www.sfpoetry.com/halloween.html
The funny part about my dad’s discomfort with Halloween is that I also think of him as the person who really got me thinking about horror. We used to watch old horror movies together. He would regularly throw in Mystery Science Theater 3000-style comments about the movie (years before there was a Mystery Science Theater 3000!) making them fun, but no less haunting.
No doubt the forbidden thrills of Halloween played a big part in the creation of the Scarlet Order vampire series along with much of the other horror I’ve written. I find tapping the emotions of horror is a great way for me to explore the human condition and peer into those dark places that we might not be able to explore through more mainstream fiction. Clicking the cover below, you can learn about the latest Scarlet Order novel and explore some of those forbidden thrills for yourself.
Of course, all these memories get to the root of Dia de los Muertos, which follows on the heels of Halloween. It’s a holiday for remembering those loved ones who have gone before. It’s especially powerful for me personally in that my father died in October 1980 and my mom in November 2009. It’s hard not to think about them this time of year. This year, my daughters and I plan to celebrate their memories by making a loaf of Pan de Muertos, the Bread of the Dead. A few years ago, I wrote a Day of the Dead poem for my dad that was first published in Macabre Magazine. Enjoy!
Pan de Muerto
by David Lee Summers
All Soul’s Day—The Day of the Dead—
Picnics and parties at the cemetery.
Gravestones decorated with flowers,
Pinwheels, photos, favorite toys,
Candies and pan de muerto—
The Bread of the Dead.
My daughter and I make the bread.
She beats the eggs—even in death,
There is the memory of new life.
I add the orange essence – memory
Of the orange trees Grandpa—
My dad—loved so much.
Together, my daughter and I add the
flour—grown from the soil where
Grandpa now rests. Together we
Kneed the dough—making a
Connection across time.
Grandfather to father to daughter.
We set the bread out with a photo,
Some Halloween candy, and many
Happy memories. Sleep that night is
Restless. There is a chill in the air.
Morning comes and a chunk is gone
From the Bread of the Dead.