Dia de los Muertos
Dia de los Muertos
A Mexican Tradition Arrives at
From From now through November 12th in our Mystic and Old Saybrook, Connecticut Southern Exposure stores, we will celebrate Dia de los Muertos. This festive holiday in Mexico is a time for remembering loved ones who have passed on. In keeping with the Mexican tradition, we will decorate both stores for the festivities and have an Ofrenda (altar) as well.
Here is a little background and history to this holiday.
Dia de los Muertos: Remembering the Dead
An indigenous Mexican celebration, Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), should not be confused with Halloween, All Saint’s Day, or All Soul’s Day.
The holiday spans three days (depending on the region which it is celebrated) from October 31st to November 2nd. Throughout October, though, festivities are already beginning at the Markets. Local merchants will sell their sugar skulls, calaveras, nichos, pottery vessels to cook in and incense burners for copal resin, flowers such as marigolds, baby's breath, and purple cockscomb sold to decorate the graves and altars at homes, spices for making mole, and many calacas and other toys for the children. Bakeries are filled with their pan de muertos, sugar skulls, and other yummy confections.
Day of the Dead was started by Mexican native tribes (such as the Aztecs) thousands of years ago as a means continuing their belief in the circle of life in which death plays a part and is not to be feared. As it evolved with the coming of the Spanish Missionaries, the native holiday incorporated aspects of the Catholic teaching of death as an end to mortal life and a beginning of a new and better afterlife. Masks are also sold throughout Mexico for Halloween, which has mixed within the cultural traditions of Dia de los Muertos just as the ancient Aztec tradition of Day of the Dead has meshed with Catholic teachings, and saints. Halloween has remained a separate holiday sometimes practiced along with Dia de los Muertos, though it remains a close cousin. But the message is still the same: mock death, partake of it, join it, because there is no escaping it.
Dia de los Muertos is widely celebrated, but it is primarily a private or family ritual, just as Thanksgiving is in America. Families will gather to build and decorate the altar, make and present offerings, and sit at the ofrendas, or altars to share a feast with their ancestors.
In Mexico, the holiday is celebrated at night and in cemeteries. The family of the departed makes offerings of food and drink and places the traditional flowers, marigolds, at each gravesite. Copal incense or resin is traditionally burned at this time, so that it is carried into the air to invite the ancestors to appear. During this offering, the family members also offer prayers or speak to the dead. They light the way from their home with small votives or candles and marigold leaves, to offer their deceased a path to the way home.
Days of Celebration
The dates and celebrations therein change from region to region, but these are examples of what is celebrated when.
October 27th: Spirits with no survivors to greet them are received in some villages with bread and jugs of water hung outside the houses.
October 28th: Those who died by violent deaths/those who died by accidents (accidentados).
October 30th & 31st: Families will decorate their ofrenda, if they have not done so already.
October 31st - November 1st: The night of the 31st through midday of November 1st is for the children, or angelitos.
Nobember 1st - 2nd: The festivities visit the graves and honor their adult dead and ancestors. By dusk of November 2nd, festivities come to an end.
Terms to Know
Altars, or ofrendas, are made at home, with candles lit along the way and marigold petals spread to offer a path for the deceased relatives to enter. These altars are decorated with pictures of saints and loved ones, flowers, food (traditionally pan de muerto, or bread of the dead, a cup of water, some salt, and a feast of foods that the deceased loved in life), and other significant objects that the departed relative might have cherished as reminders of the deceased.
The most important character on Dia de los Muertos is the key symbol of death, the calavera, meaning skull or skeleton. The images are not meant to be morbid, but rather a symbolic of life. You will often see Calaveras in folk art acting out everyday activities in life.
Pan de Muerto
A sweet bread often molded into the shape of a skull and baked with a plastic skeleton inside.
Paper streamers or tissue that have been cut out (similar to paper snowflakes), to depict the skeleton or calaveras.
Sugar skulls are compacted sugar paste in the shapes of skulls and traditionally bear the names of the deceased on their foreheads. Skulls sit on the altar or are given to children and exchanged by sweethearts. They are rarely eaten, and instead given as offerings to the deceased.
These are small figurines, made out of paper mache, clay, and/or wood of skeletons that are made to do everyday activites that we do while alive. These figurines flood the markets of Mexico, where people will buy them to offer on altars or give to friends and family. Some people collect these folk arts of Mexico, which is why we at Southern Exposure offer many examples of these calacas and other catrinas and nichos for sale in our store.
The was the symbolic flower of death to the Aztecs. Perhaps this association was made because once the marigold is cut, it dies very quickly. For this reason, Flowers on the ofrenda refer to the earth and the regenerative forces of nature. It's very name means "flower of the dead".
Jose Guadalupe Posada
Printmaker whose revolutionary work in the nineteenth century using calaveras as a form of political satire popularized Catrina, the image of an upper class woman who is dressed in finery and flowers over her bony figure.
A Recipe for Pan de Muerto (Bread of the Dead)
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup water
5 to 5-1/2 cups flour
2 packages dry yeast
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon whole anise seed
2 tablespoon orange zest
1/2 cup sugar
4 large eggs
In a saucepan over medium flame, heat the butter, milk and water until very warm but not boiling.
Meanwhile, measure out 1-1/2 cups flour and set the rest aside. In a large mixing bowl, combine the 1-1/2 cups flour, yeast, salt, anise seed and sugar. Beat in the warm liquid until well combined. Add the eggs and beat in another 1 cup of flour. Continue adding more flour until dough is soft but not sticky. Knead on lightly floured board for ten minutes until smooth and elastic.
Lightly grease a bowl and place dough in it, cover with plastic wrap and let rise in warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1-1/2 hours. Punch the dough down and shape into loaves resembling skulls, skeletons or round loaves with "bones" placed ornamentally around the top. Let these loaves rise for 1 hour.
Bake in a preheated 350 F degree oven for 40 minutes. Remove from oven and paint on glaze.
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup fresh orange juice
2 tablespoons grated orange zest
Bring to a boil for 2 minutes, then apply to bread with a pastry brush.
If desired, sprinkle on colored sugar while glaze is still damp.
adapted from globalgourmet.com
Books & Links
Want to learn even more? All of these books are available for sale or special order through our store. Email or call us with your selections.
The Skeleton at the Feast: The Day of the Dead in Mexico, by Elizabth Carmichael & Chloe Sayer
The Days of the Dead, or Los Dias de Muertos by Rosalind Rosoff Beimler, photographs by John Grenleigh
And for the Children:
Day of the Dead, by Tony Johnston & Jeanette Winter
The Festival of Bones by Luis San Vicente
Making Sugar Skulls: http://www.mexicansugarskull.com/mexicansugarskull/recipe.htm
Day of the Dead: http://www.azcentral.com/ent/dead/