A friend told me this week that she heard from her Mexican relatives that this time of year offers the most transparent veil in the atmosphere, which is why the spirits can more easily return. Welcome to Dia de los Muertos — Day of the Dead.
We do Halloween up big here in the USA. One day. Trick-or-treat. Spend billions on the holiday (costumes, candy, decor) and most of us have no idea of the origins. In Latin countries — the Americas and southern Europe — where Catholicism took hold, the season gives us three days to honor and remember loved ones and ancestors, many who we did not know but appreciate for our heritage.
I’m preparing for Dia de los Muertos on November 2, when the spirits return to their graves. I’ve ordered a mix of fresh tamales and pan de muerto from La Superior. I’ve shopped at the best Latino supermarket, Compare, fully stocked with all needs Mexico. I’ll make slaw and apple pie, using my mom’s pie recipe.
My menu includes pozole verde with chicken (see Serious Eats recipe) that I will start today. I’m a make-it-up-as-you-go-along cook. I usually consult several recipes, look at the ingredients I prefer (they always vary according to who is cooking), and then go at it. Innovation is important to me.
Here is a good one from Epicurious.
The stock for the pozole verde (click for Bon Appetit recipe) is a tomatillo, onion, garlic, carrot, chili poblano, Mexican oregano, and bay leaf base. I simmered all these ingredients together first for about an hour. Warning: the poblano needs to be charred on a griddle or over a gas flame to peel off the tough skin.
Tomorrow, I’ll add the hominy that I will have soaked overnight and then cooked. I’ll also add cooked organic chicken leg meat, using the stock for the base, and shredding the meat off the bone. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Garnish with sliced radishes, shredded cabbage, and thin sliced jalapeño peppers. Ready to eat. When prepared a few days in advance, the flavors have a chance to mingle!
You can actually add the seasonings and hominy to the base above, simmer for flavor development, and keep the chicken aside to satisfy the vegetarians.
Food is comfort and memory. This is why we love the celebration of holidays, to remember the meals around the table, who was with us. We remember Halloween for costumes (homemade, then), whether we could fill the bag completely with candy, where we went for the best neighborhood hand-outs.
I add a eucalyptus (bay) leaf to the stock. I remember the rustling of the eucalyptus trees in the wind that bounded the vast orange tree orchard across the street from where I lived in the San Fernando Valley. That was when the orchards of oranges, lemons and walnuts were plentiful, before the great migration of settlement that turned it all to concrete. I was scared. The aroma was heady, the kids held each others’ hands. The time when parents had little to worry about when the treat was an apple.
What do you remember?
Day of the Dead — Dia de los Muertos — Is it Halloween?
Today is Halloween in El Norte, the northern part of North America aka USA. In southern North America aka Mexico, the celebration is very different. And, the border is more permeable so iconic images of carved pumpkins, witches on broomsticks, and the call of trick or treat are becoming part of the Mexican holiday landscape.
Catholic Halloween (imported to Latin America from Spain) has three components:
It is likely the Spanish moved indigenous ancestor worship celebration and traditions to these dates to coincide with teaching the new religion. In many Oaxaca villages, the celebrations occur on one of these three days. You need to know where and when.
Here in Durham, North Carolina, Day of the Dead or Dia de los Muertos, takes on the flavor of Mexico and is celebrated beyond the barrio. I suspect that many cities and towns with Mexican and Central American immigrants have incorporated the images, if not the practices, of Muertos into Halloween.
My annual celebration is on November 2, All Soul’s Day, which is when Muertos is observed in my Oaxaca home village of Teotitlan del Valle.
I build an altar. Decorate it with cempasuchitl (aromatic marigolds), offerings of food and beverages that my parents loved. My dad gets a beer. My mom gets green tea. There is bread and chocolate — a requirement. No bagels and lox in Durham, so I make do with something else. I light candles. Arrange the sugar skulls. Put their photos on the table. Sit and remember. This is ecumenical.
Paul Cezanne contemplates mortality in this still life
Death in the Mexican culture is synonymous with life. It is a time to celebrate life in all its forms and think about the continuity. Muertos is when the loved ones return to visit. It is a chance to talk to them, to thank them, to honor them and to consider how they gave us life. If we had unresolved issues, we can discuss those with them, too. It is very healthy and healing, like a prayer.
2019 Day of the Dead Women’s Writing Retreat
Pan de Muertos
Here are some links of past blog posts I have written over the years that explain Day of the Dead. Please feel free to read and pass along. Lots of photos in these links, too!
Papier mache flying devil bridges the spirit world
Let us know how you will celebrate and remember.
Posted in Cultural Commentary, Oaxaca Mexico art and culture, Teotitlan del Valle, Travel & Tourism
Tagged day of the dead, dia de los muertos, Halloween