A time to remember those who we’ve lost through a celebration of the dead.
Today starts this year’s Día de los Muertos or Day of the Dead festivities. Celebrated in central and southern Mexico on November 1st and 2nd, Mexican’s believe that the gates of heaven are opened at midnight on October 31st, and that the spirits of all deceased children (angelitos) come to reunite with their families for 24 hours. On November 2, the spirits of the adults come down to enjoy food, celebrations and alters created in their memory. All told, it’s an opportunity for relatives to honor their deceased loved ones.
I’ve long loved this holiday, in part due to the pageantry of the images and symbols, but I love the idea of having “another day” with those we’ve lost – even if simply a day set aside to celebrate their lives with a festival.
Some key symbols:
Up close shot of pan de muertos (Recipe below!)
According to Wikipedia, scholars have traced the festival back to a pagan observance dedicated to the goddess Mictecacihuatl or the Lady of the Dead. In fact the natives believed that death was a continuation of life and it was embraced. They also felt that life was simply a dream and that only when one died, were they truly awake.
The altars and items displayed are to encourage visits by the departed’s souls and to allow the souls to hear prayers, anecdotes and fond memories. It’s believed that the souls will eat the spirit of the food and beverages presented and those celebrating will consume the physical ones. In some instances, families also lay out blankets and pillows to allow the souls to rest before their long journey back to the after world.
Up until a few years ago, I’ve felt that this holiday wasn’t as big of a deal in the US as it was in Mexico. However over the last four years, I’ve personally seen a surge in Day of the Dead costumes at #Halloween. I’m not sure this translates to a surge in celebrating it, but I do know of a few local festivals supporting the holiday. One local chocolate maker, Taza Chocolate, who sources their chocolate from #Mexico, holds an annual Día de los Muertos festival each year. This year marks their 5th Annual event.
In 2014, The Book of Life, created and written by Jorge Gutierrez and Douglas Langdale, and produced by Guillermo del Toro, was released. An entire movie around the Day of the Dead?! I was ecstatic when I heard about it.
This is an animated film that focuses on a love story and the importance of Dia de los Muertos. While “primarily” targeted to children, the plot is applicable to all. It reminds us of the importance of keeping those who have passed away in our memories, and that we should continue to celebrate their lives. It also helps us remember that those who have come before us, can help shape who we will become. (That tradition theme is strong here.) There’s a bit more to it, but I don’t want to ruin it for you! I promise it’s worth seeing!
I was awe-struck by the images in the Land of the Remembered. Each balloon sugar skull, character, and fiesta scene captured how I’d like draw and showcase the Day of the Dead symbols — that is if I had any artistic talent! It was creative and whimsical, and made me want to join in their fiesta. I was especially enchanted by Maria, Manolo and La Muerta. It’s really a film for all ages, and each time I watch it, I see something new. Read more about the Book of Life here.
Have I peaked your interest enough to try making one of the mainstays of the holiday — pan de muertos (translation: bread of the dead)? This is a yeasty, sweet egg bread flavored with anise. (Just a touch of the licorace flavor – I still think you’ll like it if you’re not too in to licorice.) I think it’s great and many enjoy having a #PSL (that’s shorthand for the “hot” Pumpkin Spiced Latte) with it. Straight coffee will do as well!
I’d found and tried this recipe on Chowhound.com. It’s adapted from Richard Sandoval and Maya Restaurants in NYC. You can click here to see the recipe or use the version below:
Pan de Muertos
3 hrs 40 mins 2 loaves
See picture above for how it will look when done. (Sorry I don’t have step-by-step pictures)
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar, plus more for sprinkling
- 1/2 teaspoon fine salt
- 1 teaspoon anise seed
- 1/2 ounce (2 packets) active dry yeast (I used Fleischmann’s)
- 1/2 cup whole milk
- 1/2 cup water
- 8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick)
- 4 large eggs
- 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the work surface
- Vegetable oil, for oiling the bowl
- 1 egg yolk beaten with 2 teaspoons water
- Combine the sugar, salt, anise seed, and yeast in a small mixing bowl.
- Heat the milk, water, and butter in a small saucepan over medium heat until the butter is just melted; DO NOT allow it to boil.
- Add the milk mixture to the dry mixture and mix well with a wire whisk.
- Stir in the eggs and 1-1/2 cups of the flour and beat well.
- Add the remaining flour, little by little, stirring well with a wooden spoon until the dough comes together.
- Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured wooden board and knead it until it’s smooth, elastic, and no longer sticky, about 9 to 10 minutes.
- Place in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with a clean kitchen towel, and allow the dough to rise in a warm area until it has doubled in size, about 1-1/2 hours. (It took the full 1-1/2 hours for me)
- Heat the oven to 350°F and arrange a rack in the middle.
- Punch down the dough and divide it into 2 pieces. Cut 3 small (about 1-ounce) balls from each half and mold them into skull-and-bones shapes. Shape the large pieces of dough into round loaves and place the skull-and-cross bones on top.
- Place the breads on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and let them rise another hour.
- Brush the loaves with the egg yolk mixture and bake.
Halfway through baking, about 20 minutes, remove the loaves from the oven and brush again with the egg wash and sprinkle lightly with granulated sugar. Return to the oven and bake until the loaves are golden brown and sound hollow when tapped, about another 20 minutes.
Offer up to those who have passed and enjoy. (You’re allowed to eat it!)
Do you celebrate those who have passed? Do you celebrate Día de los Muertos?
Let me know if you like the recipe!
I also hope you’ll do more research into this great holiday after reading my post!
Special thanks to www.mexicansugarskull.com, Taza Chocolates, Wikipedia, artisfun, chowhound, 20th Century Fox for helping with details within this post.