Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Day of the Dead Altars: The Food Part II



Day of the Dead Altars:  The Food
by Victoria Challancin

The Mexican...is familiar with death.  (He) jokes about it, caresses it, sleeps with it, celebrates it.  It is one of his favorite toys and his most steadfast love.
--Octavio Paz, Mexican poet, writer, and diplomat (1914-1998)


Foreigners rarely understand the Mexican obsession with death.  They find it disturbingly macabre. Yet with all the death imagery, that constant reminder of our mortality, humor permeates all.  In Mexico, it is not that loss isn't felt, that grief isn't present, or even that sadness isn't paramount...it is more that a sensible perspective exists, allowing us to feel the sorrow, remember those who most touch our lives, and always know that death is an inevitable part of life  Death.  The one inevitable experience that no one can escape.  No one.

Part of the honoring of the dead is the important step of setting up a memorial altar, in the home and at the cemetary, or Pantheon.  Altars may differ in complexity and creativity, yet the unwritten expectancies are always there.  There should be a photo...some memorabilia or favorite possessions of the loved one...representation of favorite foods so that the spirits of the dead can eat the "spiritual essence" of the ofrendas...flowers, especially cempasúchil (marigold), sugar skulls, pan de muerto (a special semi-sweet egg bread), a cross or representation of the Virgin Mary, and candles.  

And although the Day of the Dead celebrations can be traced back as far as almost 3000 years, the traditions persist today.  The rituals may have changed, but the symbols persist.  The honoring of the dead is a constant.  The hope of rebirth the unwritten hope.

I have written extensively in the past about this important celebration.  You can find some of the posts linked below:

Here are some of the food ofrendas, favorite foods of specific departed loved ones:

 Enchiladas, rice, and refried beans

 A molcajete con tejolote (a basalt mortar and pestle) filled with salsa to eat with corn tortillas

 A favorite hat, some sugar skulls, and a tamal

 Tequila or Mezcal

 Favorite cigarettes

 A yam, guavas, oranges, a cup of cafe de olla, cactus fruit, and red Mexican rice

 A big plate of mole poblanco and a portrait of the dead made with beans and rice

 Pan de Muerto, the semi-sweet egg bread special for this day

 Mezcal

 A molcajete filled with corn, chiles, and cactus fruit...plus champurrado, a chocolate-based atole or corn-based hot drink


"If you cannot get rid of the family skeleton, you may as well make it dance."
George Bernard Shaw


Parting Shot:


©Victoria Challancin.  All Rights Reserved.

Please ask permission before using text or photos.



7 comments:

MeOfCourse said...

Indeed, one of our yearly celebrations. Very nice layout. Enjoyed it. Thanks.
gloria

Eha said...

Fantastic Vicki! Somehow this mindset is beginning to make some sense to me, as the everpresent skulls have made me feel uncomfortable in a way. And thank you for all the links which will be researched tonight!! The food: seems to me all the Mexican favourites I know are there and I am getting used to the ever presence of the marigolds. Am softly amused by the logical offering of alcohol: let's share a drink with the memories! Remember a staid Lutheran funeral here awhile ago: the departed lady had loved her whisky and her granddaughters arrived with a bottle they poured onto her coffin in the grave. Quelle horreur: it is still talked about! I see what you mean about 'normalcy' in Mexico!!

Anonymous said...

Viva Mexico, land of a million colors and traditions. great

Hotly Spiced said...

I only recently heard of this festival and yes, it did seem rather strange to me. But i love the colour of the festival and all the happy celebrations. It is good to remember the dead and remember the happy times and not just focus on the time of their passing. It seems the Mexicans do this very well xx

SallyBR said...

The same day is a big holiday in Brazil, we call it "Finados" (would loosely translated as "those who ended, ceased to exist")

It is not festive as in Mexico, but it is a holiday. Normally folks go to cemeteries to put flowers by the resting place of their loved ones.

I like the Mexican approach, actually - let's celebrate and remember those who are not with us anymore by cooking their favorite dishes...

Joan Nova said...

Thanks for continuing to share the culture. You live in a land that is so colorful, literally and figuratively.

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

It's so true, death is inevitable and the more I read about the Day of the Dead celebrations the more that I love them and appreciate why they are done. I live for these posts Victoria, thank you for showing them to us :D