Who says Americans don't have a sense of humor about death? Granted, there are funnier topics that come to mind - dogs on surfboards, for instance - but it's not like we can't see the lighter side of mortality. Do we not crack the odd Steve Irwin joke? Did we not make "Six Feet Under" an Emmy-winning TV sensation?
Prove that you can embrace the Great Unknown just as cheerfully as our amigos to the south by observing Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) this weekend. Celebrated over three days, it could put the "fun" back in your funeral.
DAY ONE: FRIDAY, OCT. 31
On the first day of the holiday, families construct colorful altars, or cajitas, and line them with treats such as sweet tamales. These are intended for the infants and children - known collectively as angelitos, or "little angels" - who have passed on to the afterlife. Fortunately, finding a good sweet tamale in the East Valley is just as easy as finding a sunburn. Try the chocolate tamale ($6.50) at Los Sombreros (2534 N. Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale).
DAY TWO: SATURDAY, NOV. 1
The angelitos are sent packing. Today, the offerings are designated for adult souls, or "faithful dead." These include tamales, mole dishes, cigarettes and tequila. Of course, you could just buy a pack of American Spirits and a bottle of Jose Cuervo and leave it at that, but then you'd miss the chance to peruse the world-class tequila selection at Sun Devil Liquors (235 N. Country Club Drive, Mesa). With a few days' notice, the staff can order you a bottle of the mythical Clase Azul Ultra ($1,700), but more bargain-minded shoppers might want to opt for the marked-down El Mayor Reposado ($30.99). And nobody will mind if you swipe a swig from your late Uncle Bill.
DAY THREE: SUNDAY, NOV. 2
Finally, it's time to return the souls to the land of the dead. This is accomplished by donning scary masks - skeletons, ghouls, former U.S. presidents, etc. - and chasing the supernatural interlopers around town. A word to the wise: Your neighbors might give you nasty looks if you do this in front of your house. Better to visit the Mesa Arts Center (1 E. Main St.) and join a "community gathering" of like-minded soul chasers. The center also offers a cajita workshop and other holiday-themed events.
>> The Dia de los Muertos celebration at the Mesa Arts Center is free and will be held 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. The Sunday gathering will begin at roughly 4:30 p.m. Call (480) 644-6627 or visit mesaartscenter.com.