Synopses & Reviews
Come the end of October, decorated breads, fanciful paper cutouts, plastic toys playing humorously on the theme of death, and sugar candy skulls and skeletons are evident everywhere throughout Mexico. Then, from October 31 through November 2, Mexicans clean, decorate, and maintain vigil over relatives' graves. Most of the activities and artistic displays connected with this holiday are folk elaborations entirely separate from liturgical requirements. The origin of these folk practices is a source of scholarly and popular debate. What is clear is that the holiday has come to symbolize Mexico and Mexican identity. Within Mexico, it is a key symbol of national identity; in the United States, it symbolizes ethnic identity. Less informed discussions of the Day of the Dead have simply reproduced the popular image of Mexicans as unafraid of death: jocular in confronting mortality or with an intimate relationship to death. This forms an integral part of most portrayals of Mexican national character. In Skulls to the Living, Bread to the Dead, we learn that the ultimate paradox is that the very holiday responsible for producing a stereotype of the stoic Mexican, longing for death, is actually a powerful affirmation of life and creativity. Brandes examines these themes and others bearing on the ethnographic content and symbolic meanings of this holiday. Beautifully illustrated with both black-and-white and color photographs, this book will be required reading for anyone interested in Mexican culture, art, and folklore as well as contemporary globalization and identity politics.
"Erudite and charming, Brandes' book provides a welcome antidote to previous studies of Day of the Dead 'morbidity,' segueing seamlessly from the Mexican festivities to Mexican-Americans in California. The book is destined to become a classic in Hispanic studies." David D. Gilmore, SUNY, Stony Brook
"This is a marvelous book. Brandes, a perceptive analyst and delightful writer, mines his years of fieldwork to offer both the telling ethnographic episode and the revealing photograph. Skulls to the Living not only illuminates the fascinating rituals of the Day of the Dead, but offers rich insight into changing and kaleidoscopic Mexican culture as well." David I. Kertzer, Brown University
Shortlisted for the Katharine Briggs Folklore Award 2007
"A cogent, attractively presented case study of a single festival in its diverse forms. It provides a lucid account of cultural change and a careful plotting of causes and influences." (Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, March 2009)
"As Brandes explains in this small, well-written, colorfully illustrated volume, the Day of the Dead has strayed far from its origins as a Mexican version of the pan-Roman Catholic All Saints' and All Souls' days to become a spectacular international and interethnic happening ... Recommended." (CHOICE)
"Penetrating look at … how religious ritual can be shaped and transformed by culture … to serve new purposes in a rapidly changing world." (Missiology)
Each October, as the Day of the Dead draws near, Mexican markets overflow with decorated breads, fanciful paper cutouts, and whimsical toy skulls and skeletons. To honor deceased relatives, Mexicans decorate graves and erect home altars. Drawing on a rich array of historical and ethnographic evidence, this volume reveals the origin and changing character of this celebrated holiday. It explores the emergence of the Day of the Dead as a symbol of Mexican and Mexican-American national identity.
Skulls to the Living, Bread to the Dead poses a serious challenge to the widespread stereotype of the morbid Mexican, unafraid of death, and obsessed with dying. In fact, the Day of the Dead, as shown here, is a powerful affirmation of life and creativity. Beautifully illustrated, this book is essential for anyone interested in Mexican culture, art, and folklore, as well as contemporary globalization and identity formation.
Stanley Brandes’s new book, Skulls to the Living, Bread to the Dead, challenges the misconception of Mexico’s national fascination with death and instead looks at the unique and elaborate celebrations of life that have become a symbol of the nation.
Christian Nagel is software architect and developer, associate of Thinktecture, who offers training and consulting on how to design and develop Microsoft .NET solutions. He looks back to more than 15 years' experience as a developer and software architect. Christian started his computing career with PDP 11 and VAX/VMS platforms, covering a variety of languages and platforms. Since the year 2000 -- when .NET was just a technology preview -- he has been working with various .NET technologies to build distributed solutions. With his profound knowledge of Microsoft technologies, he has also written numerous .NET books; is certified as Microsoft Certified Trainer (MCT), Solution Developer (MCSD), and Systems Engineer (MCSE); and is Microsoft Regional Director and MVP for Visual C#. Christian is a speaker at international conferences (TechED, DevDays, VCDC) and is the regional manager of INETAEurope (International .NET User Group Association) supporting .NET user groups. You can contact Christian via his Web site, http: //www.christiannagel.com and http: //www.thinktecture.com.
About the Author
Stanley Brandes received his PhD in Anthropology from the University of California, Berkeley, where he has taught since 1974. He is the author of numerous publications on religion, society, and culture in Spain and Mexico, including, most recently, Staying Sober in Mexico City (2002).
Table of Contents
List of Figures and Plates.
Part 1 Introduction.
1. The Day of the Dead, Problems and Paradoxes.
Part 2 Historical Foundations.
2. The Sweetness of Death.
3. Skulls and Skeletons.
Part 3 Contemporary Transformations.
4. Tourism and the State.
5. The Poetics of Death.
6. The Day of the Dead and Halloween.
Part 4 North of the Border.
7. Teaching the Day of the Dead.
8. Creativity and Community.
Part 5 Conclusion.
9. Mexican Views of Death.