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:
- The Poetry of Death--Background and History
- The Altars--photos
- More Altars--photos
- Alfeñiques--sugar skulls and more (photos of a Day of the Dead Market)
- Setting up the Altar for Day of the Dead
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
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
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
©Victoria Challancin. All Rights Reserved.
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