While many people across the United States are busy getting ready for Halloween, people from Mexico and Latin America are planning the Día De los Muertos celebration. This long-standing Mexican holiday is so much more than costumes and handing out candy. In fact, it takes multiple days to celebrate and truly appreciate the Day of the Dead. There is color, there is life-affirming joy and there is respect for those who have passed. It is a time to sing, dance, and make offerings to those who we have loved and lost. Día de los Muertos may fall around the same time as Halloween, but the two are vastly different holidays.
In previous years we at La Mesa Mexican Restaurant have commemorated Día de los Muertos with a tequila tasting and dinner celebration where people can learn more about this traditional Mexican holiday, try some fantastic tequilas and, of course, enjoy our amazing, authentic Mexican dishes. Since this year we are not going to be able to celebrate here is a little bit more information about the holiday.
Día de los Muertos began several thousand years ago in the time of the Aztec, Toltec and Nahua people. Each group of people would gather once a year with the specific purpose of celebrating those who had died. In these ancient cultures, mourning the dead was considered to be taboo and disrespectful. Mourning meant that those who passed were no longer with us and gone forever.
However, the belief was that after death, the spirit remains and those who died were still considered to be members of the community. Death was just another natural phase of life.
The spirits of the dead were celebrated on All Saints day and All Souls Day which fell each year on November 1st and 2nd. During this time, the spirits of the dead would come to earth and the Día de Los Muertos celebrations would begin. This tradition and remembrance has continued and, thousands of years later, the festivities remain much the same.
Much of the celebration revolves around an altar or ofrenda. These altars can be in one’s home, in a cemetery or in a more public place where larger groups can gather. Unlike other altars for the deceased which are meant as a place to mourn, these altars are a place where spirits are welcomed back to earth. They are loaded with offerings both for the general spirits and also for specific spirits that a family may be greeting. Water and food are commonly found at altars to help the spirits regain energy after their long journey. Families will place a spirit’s favorite toy or photograph at the altar as well.
Marigold flowers are traditionally used to decorate altars and make for brilliant, colorful decorations. A path of marigolds is laid from a gravesite back to a family’s altar to lead wandering souls back home. Incense is also lit at each altar to help purify the air and keep the path from the spirit world to the realm of the living clear.
Calaveras and Catrina
Calavera means skull and, during the Día de los Muertos, you will find lots of brightly colored decorative skulls everywhere you look. There is a traditional Mexican quote that says “Todos somos Calaveras” or “we are all skeletons” which references the fact that under our skin, everyone is essentially the same. This goes for both those who are alive and those who are dead. We are all just skeletons!
This image was personified by Diego Rivera, an early 20th century artist who created an elegant skeleton in a large hat named Catrina. Catrina became the symbol of Día de Los Muertos and is the holiday’s most ubiquitous symbol. Thousands of people paint their faces to look like Catrina as they celebrate the holiday. It is a representation of unity for those both alive and dead.
Food of The Dead
Now, on to our favorite part at La Mesa- the food! Many people will prepare their dead loved ones their favorite meal, leaving it at the altar to welcome them home. But, while the food of Día de los Muertos may vary from household to household, there are a few traditional dishes that remain the same.
Pan de Muerto or bread of the dead is a sweet bread made with anise seeds and decorated with skulls and bones. The bones are often arranged in a circle to represent the circle of life while small teardrop shapes may be drawn in the dough to show sorrow.
Sugar skulls are a very popular food and were popularized in the 17th century by Italian missionaries. Sugar is pressed into skull molds and then painted bright colors. Sugar skulls are not only a sweet treat but also a classic decoration for the holiday. They can be seen everywhere, brightening the streets with their fun, vivacious look. Never before has a skull looked more alive!
Pulque, a sweet fermented drink made from agave, is the traditional drink of Día de los Muertos. However, what is a good Mexican holiday without a little tequila? La Mesa is the home to over 100 premium tequilas. Visit us and set the mood for the celebration of life.
How to Celebrate Dia de Los Muertos
Despite being thousands of years old, this holiday is still alive and well across Mexico. In fact, celebrating Día de Los Muertos is more popular than ever! There are parades, music, bike rides and other activities throughout Mexico that bring communities together to welcome back the spirits of those who have passed. Colorful costumes are worn with skeleton face paint. Marigold paths line the streets and sugar skulls are seen in almost every shop window. The scene in Mexico at Día de Los Muertos is one of light, love and respect.
You can celebrate in much the same manner as Día de Los Muertos traditions can take place anywhere. Set up your own altar in your home and offer your deceased loved ones their favorite foods and drinks. Paint your own sugar skulls and try your hand at making some pan de muerto. Or, simply plan a trip to La Mesa Mexican Restaurant to really get the celebration going. We will have tequila, we will have great food and we will be ready to eat with our ancestors! We can welcome back the spirits of those who passed together and rejoice in the fact that death is not really the end.
Come drink, eat and celebrate with us at La Mesa during this meaningful holiday. Say goodbye to the dark, spooky days of Halloween and say hello to the exuberant, joyful spirit of Día de los Muertos. We will see you soon!