Holidays are unique across the globe and often celebrated with special foods, decorations, and traditions. Largely associated with Latin American countries and, more specifically, the country of Mexico, is Día de Los Muertos, a vibrant and unique holiday that honors the lives of the deceased in a jubilant, colorful and sensory-filled way.
With fresh, prepared and even ornamental foods presented as offerings to the deceased, this celebration is special in that it carries a deeper meaning—that of the human experience where families can share stories and memories, celebrating the cycle of life.
Día de Los Muertos combines historical ritual Aztec practices with Catholicism to create two separate days of observance, although the holiday has gradually come to include October 31. The first day of November is known as “Día de Los Inocentes,” or Day of the Innocents, and honors the lives of children and infants, while November 2 pays tribute to adults. Both days and the eves leading up to them use food and symbolism to mark a special connection among the living and the departed via a three-day festival.
Some of the most recognized decorations used are the Calaveras and Calacas (skeletons and skulls) and marigold flowers—all used as tokens of recognition along with photographs and personal belongings of the departed. The skeletons and skulls are often made from sugar and egg whites, baked and decorated with brightly colored icing and sequins to be placed thoughtfully, serving as decoration. Others made from chocolate and sugar are personalized and given as gifts to the living.
When it comes to recipes for Día de Los Muertos, the ingredients vary depending on region and availability, as this holiday was originally based around harvest time. Today we see fresh fruits such as oranges, apples, plantains, and mangoes alongside peanuts and fresh aromatic dishes, like tamales and empanadas. One common sight is “Pan de Muerto,” or “bread of the dead.”
This egg-based bread is often flavored with spices such as orange and anise, as it is thought to entice the souls of the departed back for a visit through a sense of smell. The bread is typically round and decorated with twisted forms resembling bones and bright frosting.
Warming beverages, like Atole, resemble hot chocolate, spiced with cinnamon and thickened with added masa or corn, while candied pumpkin baked in a sweet sauce of spices sends decadent smells through the air.
With its bold color scheme and spirited decorations, Día de Los Muertos has found a home in cities across the United States. Many of these décor pieces can be seen alongside traditional Halloween items; however, the two holidays have different backgrounds and significant cultural history tied to each. While we can certainly take part in the observance and celebration, it’s also important to distinguish the difference between the traditions.
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This article is courtesy of our insights partners at CultureWaves.