SUGAR SKULLS, ALTARS, CEMETERIES, MESO-AMERICAN CULTURE+ RACES! Have you heard of the central and southern Mexico festival “Dia de los Muertos”, or the “Day of the Dead”, celebrated November 1 and 2 of each year? The festival coincides with the Roman Catholic feasts of All Saints Day (11/1) and All Souls Day (11/2) which follow Halloween on October 31 (All Hallows Eve). According to the website MexicanSugarSkulls.com, the holiday is a combination of ancient beliefs about honoring the dead and the Catholic feast days, celebrated by the indigenous people living in that part of Mexico.
As a child I remember celebrating the ‘Saints” and “Souls’ Days of November in Church with my mother. As an adult I enjoy continuing the tradition.
Given the appetite in the US for the scary undead of all types and origins, like the virus-induced zombies of “World War Z” movie, the post-apocalyptic and pathogen-created ”Walking Dead” of Netflix fame, and the wights generated by the White Walkers in the Game of Thrones HBO series based on George RR Martin’s literary invention, it seems likely that people of our country would come to embrace a festival celebrating the deceased whom we love and dearly miss.
These tradition-rich Latino holy days have the inherent mysticism, beauty, and heart to bring people of all cultures together in many ways. Some will prefer to center their activities at altars and in cemeteries in the time-honored ways. Other will march in parades, enjoy delicious food, dress in costume, or express themselves artistically. And runners will create races!
In October 2015 I scoured the internet for Dias de los Muertos-related races; there were a few. In 2016 I noticed an attempt to raise awareness, outside of the ethnic communities, of celebrations that included races.
I think this holy day celebration for some is soon to become a holiday for many more, which promises to generate many more races. Images from past events on race organization websites show there are opportunities to run in costume and face-paint; runners are famous for wanting to express their creativity and sense of style in this manner.
My prediction last year that there will be an increasing number of novel, Dia de los Muertos-themed competitions in the coming years seems to be trending true. I think some endurance races may eventually be planned that run over several days to encompass the entire October 31through November 2 time period (or more convenient weekend dates preceding or following the exact days, like in Las Cruces NM). With the rise in popularity of the “sufferfest” obstacle course races, others may incorporate punishing elements in races to parallel afterlife suffering.
And mostly there will be shorter happier races held to celebrate a beautiful cultural feast, as more of us are given a chance to gain understanding and appreciation of another ethnic tradition.
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EARNED RUNS is edited and authored by me, runner and founder. I began participating in road races before 5Ks were common. I've been a dietitian, practiced and taught clinical pathology, and been involved with research that utilized pathology. I am fascinated with understanding the origins of disease as well as health.
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