Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Day of the dead...Dia de los Muertos

Day of the Dead

The beauty of the celebrations are accentuated
by the bright orange marigolds that are used to decorate the alters.
Local markets are colored orange and red with thousands of blossoms decorating the squares.
Known as the flower of the dead, the marigold was used by the Aztecs as offerings to the dead.
These flowers are said to attract the dead to the offerings.

The use of Marigold flowers and the
spreading of flower petals in a trail to the grave
and the inclusion ofchocolate in the building of an offering are all of pre-Hispanic origin.
Chocolate is a new
world plant
before the feet of the
emperor was a
common pre-Hispanic
During Oaxaca's Day Of The Dead
the indigenous people decorate their home altars with marigold flowers,
chocolate, loaves of special bread, and candles.
On the last day of October
they decorate their tombs.

The Spanish Christianised the indigenous people after
the conquest and united Christian All Saints Day
with the pagan ritual formerly
celebrated in August.

Marigold is the important flower used in celebrating the Day of the Dead
in Oaxaca and throughout Mexico.
In the remote villages, the people use a wild version of the Marigold.
It flowers in October and is plentiful in the fields.
In Oaxaca the indigenous people call the flower Cempasuchitl
in the Nahuatl language (Aztec)

The Spanish name for the flower, flor de muerto, means flower of death.
They will remove the petals from the flower and spread them
on the ground to make a path to the house and to the grave.

The pungent aroma of the marigold and the bright color of the yellow petals
will guide the spirit to the home altar (ofrenda) and to the cemetery.
The family will prepare a table on the home and decorate it with Marigold, jicama, sugar cane, and many other fruits and nuts.
They will also bake or buy special bread for the celebration.

Some Mexican families camp out in cemeteries for up to three full days,
as family members pray, bring food or goodies, sing, or burn incense.

Day of the Dead art is alive with smiling skulls in kaleidoscope colors,
doused in a deluge of decorative and detailed designs.

It is a vibrant art of colors and chaos.
You will not see evil skull drawings or benelovent beings..
or Sweet or sinister smiles
It depends upon how we/culture interprets death.

Day of the Dead artwork is not meant to be scary.
Just the opposite -
artwork is meant to celebrate the spirit and honor the memory of those who have passed.
Day of the Dead is known as "Dia de los Muertos" in Spanish.
It is a Latin American holiday falling on November 1 and 2 of every year
(similar to the Catholic All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day).
On these two special days, Latin American families and friends gather to celebrate,
honor, remember and pray for their departed loved ones.
November 1 honors departed children and November 2 honors adults.

Image below by Julie Farrell
Link here:

To celebrate the deceased is to accept that death is an inevitable part of life.
Life and death are two sides of the same coin
- life cannot exist without death, and vice versa.
As Day of the Dead approaches,
in Mexico and other Latin American countries they build altars in their homes
and in public places to honor their loved ones.
These altars are decorated using sugar skulls, marigolds, candles,
Christian crosses, images or statues of the Virgin Mary,
and photos of the departed, as well as their favorite foods and beverages.

Marigold and cockscomb are
the flowers used with special meaning.

They believe that the gates of heaven are opened at midnight on October 31,
and the spirits of all deceased children (angelitos)
are allowed to reunite with their families for 24 hours.
On November 2, the spirits of the adults come down
to enjoy the festivities that are prepared for them.

Skulls (known as calaveras) are ubiquitous in Day of the Dead celebrations.
They are the ultimate symbol of mortality.
Underneath our fleshy exterior, our very earthly existence depends upon this skeletal foundation.
Therefore Day of the Dead art revolves around imagery of skulls and skeletons in many states and forms:
dancing, cooking, smiling, and playing banjo, for example.
The belief is that our personalities and identities carry on into the afterlife.
So when a person buys an image or statue of a skeleton baking bread
and places it on an altar in honor of their aunt who was a baker,
the image is said to help the dead soul find her way back to
the altar where she can commune with her relatives.
This is why there are numerous depictions of skeletons engaged in various specific activities.
In Latin America, there is the belief that on the Day of the Dead,
the portals between this world and the world of the dead are more open,
allowing for easier contact between the living and the dead.
This makes it the opportune time to try to communicate with those who have passed.
As such, Day of the Dead is also a reflective time.
Death can be a touchy subject.
To many people it's a scary prospect,
because no one knows what happens after death.
We all have our own personal beliefs, based on our culture, society, and family upbringings,
as well as our own personal intellectual, emotional and spiritual inclinations.
Some schools of thought invoke a fear of death,
while other cultures and philosophies accept death as an inevitable part of the cycle of life.
Nothing and no one is free from the fingers of death.
It will, throughout our lives, affect us all in intimate ways... until we ultimately meet our own end.
Day of the Dead art counteracts any feelings of doom and gloom relating to mortality.
Such artwork is often colorful and lively, sometimes whimsically macabre.
Day of the Dead art is ironically full of life.
To those of us who did not grow up in Latin American culture,
Day of the Dead art rejuvenates our common Western perception of death
by presenting a view of the afterlife that is full of energy and spirit,
one worthy of joy and celebration. It brings with it the hope that after death,
there will still be another tomorrow.
Info from:

It is known that:
* much preparation goes into growing and gathering zenpzúchitles, the flowers of death;
* bread of the dead made in human shapes and sugar skulls made of fruit are popular;
* copal incense is burned on the altar through the midnight hours in séance-like fashion;
* writing of sátiras or comical poems called Calaveras ("skulls") serve to lighten the grief;
*gravesites are cleared and cleaned annually by the surviving family members;
*mano de león or "Lion's paw" flowers are used to decorate the altares and tumbas;
*nubes or white carnations decorate the graves of departed children, signifying purity;
*tallow candles or velas are burned, one representing each departed loved one.

Come nightfall:
* families walk to the cemetery and visit the tombs of their loved ones in honor of them;
*they feast or dine and drink coffee at the gravesite;
*they leave the holy ground or camposanto to go home and throw a party or fiestecita;
*they attend mass given by a Catholic priest at daybreak;
*they return home to have sugar skulls for dessert and to tell fond stories of the deceased;
*fireworks displays often illuminate the path for the returning spirits of the angelitos.

How to draw skulls:
Click on photo below
Then color and decorate your skull drawings

Pan de Muerto (Bread of the Dead)

• 1/4 cup milk
• 1/4 cup (half a stick) margarine or butter, cut into 8 pieces
• 1/4 cup sugar
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 1 package active dry yeast
• 1/4 cup very warm water
• 2 eggs
• 3 cups all-purpose flour, unsifted
• 1/2 teaspoon anise seed
• 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 2 teaspoons sugar
Instructions: Bring milk to boil and remove from heat. Stir in margarine or butter, 1/4 cup sugar and salt.

In large bowl, mix yeast with warm water until dissolved and let stand 5 minutes. Add the milk mixture.
Separate the yolk and white of one egg. Add the yolk to the yeast mixture, but save the white for later. Now add flour to the yeast and egg. Blend well until dough ball is formed.
Flour a pastry board or work surface very well and place the dough in center. Knead until smooth. Return to large bowl and cover with dish towel. Let rise in warm place for 90 minutes. Meanwhile, grease a baking sheet and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Knead dough again on floured surface. Now divide the dough into fourths and set one fourth aside. Roll the remaining 3 pieces into "ropes."
On greased baking sheet, pinch 3 rope ends together and braid. Finish by pinching ends together on opposite side. Divide the remaining dough in half and form 2 "bones." Cross and lay them atop braided loaf.
Cover bread with dish towel and let rise for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, in a bowl, mix anise seed, cinnamon and 2 teaspoons sugar together. In another bowl, beat egg white lightly.
When 30 minutes are up, brush top of bread with egg white and sprinkle with sugar mixture, except on cross bones. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes.
Makes 8 to 10 servings.

Sugar Skull Tradition

Sugar art was brought to the New World by Italian missionaries in the 17th century.
The first Church mention of sugar art was from Palermo at Easter time
when little sugar lambs and angels were made to adorn the side altars in the Catholic Church.
Mexico, abundant in sugar production and too poor
to buy fancy imported European church decorations,
learned quickly from the friars how to make sugar art for their religious festivals.
Clay molded sugar figures of angels,
sheep and sugar skulls go back to the Colonial Period 18th century.
Sugar skulls represented a departed soul, had the name written on the forehead
and was placed on the home ofrenda or gravestone to honor the return of a particular spirit.
Sugar skull art reflects the folk art style of big happy smiles,
colorful icing and sparkly tin and glittery adornments.
Sugar skulls are labor intensive and made in very small batches in the homes of sugar skull makers.
These wonderful artisans are disappearing as fabricated and imported candy skulls take their place.
There is nothing as beautiful as a big, fancy, unusual sugar skull!

Sugar skulls
Sugar skulls another important part of the ritual. Usually you will see them with the name of the person deceased on the top of the skull. These skulls are given as offerings and later eaten by friends and family. It is an interesting dichotomy between the sweetness of life and sugar versus the sadness off death and skulls. You can see these sugar skulls at every alter and Day of the Dead celebration. Many people take the time to decorate them together, further cementing the importance of gathering as a family.
If kept dry, they can last a year.
Make sugar skulls as part of your family tradition to remember your dear,
departed loved ones.

Sugar Skulls
Makes 50 small skulls
2 egg whites
1 tablespoons pure honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups granulated sugar

Original Sugar skull recipe

CAUTIONDo not make sugar skulls on a rainy or high humidity day. They will not turn out.
Please don't forget the meringue powder!
It's necessary for the sugar skull recipe.
Meringue Powder BrandDo not use meringue powder from hobby shops or cake supply shops as it's usually diluted and cut way too much for use with heavy granulated sugar. It's ok for icing, just it will not hold together sugar skulls! We get calls daily from teachers & folks who's sugar skulls are "sandy" and not sticking together and have a big mess on their hands and don't have enough time to get new meringue powder and redo the project. Start right from the beginning! The only reliable meringue powder is the one we sell or that of Sur La Table gourmet kitchen shop/ catalog.
Mix together well in large bowl:
1 teaspoon Meringue Powder for every cup of granulated sugar used.
Step 1: Mix dry ingredients well.

Step 2: Sprinkle sugar mixture with 1 teaspoon water per cup of sugar used.
Variation: Colored Skulls
Most people prefer white skulls the first time they make them,
but if you'd like colored sugar skulls, add paste food coloring TO THE WATER.
For a 5 pound bag of sugar, use 1/4 cup meringue powder and 10 teaspoons of water.
Yield 5 large skulls or 20 medium skulls or 100 mini skulls or any combination.
For a 10 pound bag of sugar, use 1/2 cup meringue powder and 7 Tablespoons water.
Yield 10 large skulls or 40 medium skulls or 200 mini skulls or any combination.
(Meringue powder is a dried product made of pasteurized eggs.
It has a shelf life of up to two years if it is kept dry)

Calabaza en Tacha

(Pumpkin candy)
• 1 4 to 5 lb pumpkin
• 8 cinnamon sticks
• Juice of 1 Orange
• 4 cups water
• 2 lbs brown sugar or raw sugar
Directions: Cut the pumpkin into 3" squares. Remove seeds and strings.
With a sharp knife make diamond designs over the pulp.

Put the sugar in a pan with the cinnamon, orange juice, and water. Bring to a boil and stir until the sugar has dissolved.
Place the first layer of pumpkin pieces skin side up in the pan. Place the second layer pulp side up. Repeat as necessary. Cover and simmer. The pumpkin pieces are done when they look golden brown and the pulp is soft.
Let cool and serve with the syrup.
You can also add cream if you prefer.

Do not stand at my grave and weep.I am not there, I do not sleep.I am a thousand winds that blow.I am the diamond glints on the snow.I am the sunlight on the ripened grain.I am the gentle Autumn's rain.
When you awaken in the morning hush,I am the swift uplifting rush,
of quiet birds in circled flight.I am the soft stars that shine at night.Do not stand at my grave and cry:I am not there, I did not die.
Thus, to celebrate life is to celebrate death as well,
for all living things must be born, mature,
oftentimes reproduce, and die, be they plant or animal.
Life and its ultimate fate Death are both part of the eternal,
rhythmic cycles of Nature and consequently are intertwined in inseparable co-existence.
For Death is simply an encuentro or a re-encounter, not a total disappearance.

Nobel laureate Octavio Paz remarks in his prolific work
The Labyrinth of Solitude or El laberinto de la soledad,
the Day of the Dead affirms "the nothingness and insignificance of human existence",
adding that many modern Mexicans joke about death as they
"caress it, sleep with it, and celebrate it" while they
"look at it, face to face, with impatience, distain or irony."
"La muerte es uno de sus juegos predilectos
y es su amor más permanente."

Octavio Paz (1914-1998)
"And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
the way to dusty death."
from William Shakespeare's MacBeth
"Tis the undiscover'd country from whose bourn
No traveller returns".
on the subject of death, from William Shakespeare's Hamlet
"There is no death, only change." Paramahansa Yogananda (1893-1952)
"Solo el ser que no nace
No puede ser calavera."
Free, downloadable information sheets on Day of the Dead (PDF)
and how to make a home altar (ofrenda).
Feel free to print them and distribute them to your school, restaurant, class,
museum event, party or church.
Day of the Dead is frequently misunderstood and would love
to educate anyone about what a meaningful and beautiful holiday this is.

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1 comment:

Princess Rose said...

Wow ! What a lot of fun information. Thank you ! I've been studying Spanish for five years now and every year I learn more and more about the Day of the Dead. This year I might actually have my own little day of the dead fiesta with my family, so your information greatly helped !