Skeletons dancing, dressed to the nines, bright tissue paper cut outs shivering in the breeze, colorfully decorated sugar skulls… It’s nearing the end of October and this scene is about to burst onto the streets. Halloween you might guess? No way, Jose. This is the Day of the Dead.
I've always been intrigued by the Day of the Dead skeletons – dressed up in the most elaborate outfits, doing what look like quite regular activities – playing guitar, dancing, getting married, sewing, working… What a joyous time they all seem to be having!
Are they laughing at death? As I dug deeper into this vibrant holiday I found out that yes, they are.
Not only is this celebration about defying the living’s fear of death, it’s also about honoring those who have passed and throwing a special party for them on the one day of the year that they return to the earth to commune with family, friends and community. And food is factored into every aspect of the day! I can’t think of an American holiday that isn’t focused largely on food, but what sets this celebration apart is that the day’s food is created for the enjoyment of the deceased. The smells from the kitchen help the spirits find their way to the altars (ofrendas) piled with their favorites – tequila, pork tamales, mugs of hot atole, fruits, marigolds and other goodies. The souls are said to eat the aromas of the food.
The living spend the day cooking elaborate meals of mole, tamales, pan de muertos (folks from towns where bread isn’t a staple will travel – at length – to get this sweet egg-y treat), special beverages, candied pumpkin and more. Everything is made with love and care to honor and remember deceased loved ones. November 1st, Dia de los Angelitos, is for the spirits of children and infants to reunite with their families. Often, miniature versions of the food will be set out on the altar for their arrival – mini pan de muertos shaped like skulls, cups of atole and toys. Then on November 2nd, Dia de los Muertos, favorite foods are set out on the altar along with water and blankets to help the spirits of the adults recover from their long journey.
While this celebration is new to me, I am excited to incorporate it into my holiday rotation. Gathering family and friends to share traditional food and fond memories – what a beautiful – and delicious – way to remember the special people in our lives who have passed and perhaps, to come to terms with our own fear of the hereafter.
For my Day of the Dead celebration this year, I look forward to creating healthy and sustainable versions of these traditional Mexican recipes. Filling my family and friends with food that will nourish them and the earth makes this holiday feel even more special. As always, I search the internet for the healthiest recipes I can find, and then take it one step further by purchasing as many local, organic and sustainable ingredients as I can get a hold of. An easy upgrade to any recipe!
Day of the Dead Recipes:
There are so many more fascinating aspects to this celebration; I hope you will take the time to read more about it!