One of our favorite holidays is approaching, and perhaps one of the best known internationally – the Day of the Dead! A holiday that has existed in these lands since pre-Hispanic times, which, when merged with Catholic doctrine, resulted in the celebration of our dearly departed on November 1 (All Saints Day, honoring deceased children) and November 2 (honoring adults).
Some of the cultures that inhabited the Mexican territory prior to the Spanish conquest accompanied their recently deceased to Mictlán (the underworld) through celebrations around the person, with foods prepared (to stay strong on the journey) and arranged in an orderly manner around the body. The purpose of this was to provide as much comfort as possible in the transition from the physical to the spiritual world.
Meaningful elements and foods
There are several essential items that are needed to make a traditional celebration. We begin with the beautiful cempasúchil (marigold). The name comes from the Nahuatl cempohualxochitl, or twenty-flower, and it represents the sun and the illuminated path to follow. There is also papel picado, the perforated, fluttering tissue paper streamers depicting deities and the underworld that have replaced the original amate bark paper of yesterday. We can’t miss the sweet sugar and chocolate calaveritas (skulls) that represent the deceased or simply act as memento mori. We also find incense, which is intimately linked to contact with the spiritual. Finally, the exquisite pan de muerto (sweet bun) in its infinite varieties, decorated with elements alluding to skeletons, and originally spread with red dyes to mimic blood from the heart and sacrifices.
Where to enjoy the best traditional foods this season?
Mercado de Coyoacán
Ignacio Allende s/n, Del Carmen, Coyoacán
Mercado La Merced
Rosario 156, Merced Balbuena, Venustiano Carranza
Parque Centenario 12, Del Carmen, Coyoacán
T. 55 4356 7185
Orizaba 219 local 3, Roma Norte, Cuauhtémoc
T. 55 5564 7696
Valladolid 76 A, Roma Norte, Cuauhtémoc
T. 55 5207 2546
Colima 166, Roma Norte, Cuauhtémoc
T. 55 5533 7804
Day of the Dead is an intricate holiday, meshing national and personal sentiments, celebrated through special moments of food and laughter around the table. It invites us to value our loved ones, reflect on our mortality, cherish our ancestors, and give them a place in our homes again as they had in life.