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Friday, 29 October 2010

Day of the Dead

Offering for the 28th for 3 departed relatives

This week we are celebrating the "Day of the Dead", although it is really a week of Days of the Dead from the 28th October to the 2nd of November. During this period people have alters in their homes filled with food and flowers for their deceased relatives and friends to visit, enjoy and feast on. The way their loved ones died, dictates which day from October 28th and November 2nd that offerings are made. According to my fiance's Mum, Dona Rosa, these are the days that Los Muestos (the dead) visit:

  • 28th October - for those who died of accidents
  • 29th October - for those who drowned
  • 30th October - for babies who died before they were baptised
  • 31st October - those who died as children
  • 1st November - she's not sure
  • 2nd November - for those who died of old age or any other reason  

Rather than a period of mourning, it is more a celebration of the lives and memories of the deceased and another reason for families to get together to cook, eat and have a holiday. The 1st and the 2nd of November are public holidays in Mexico for this important festival.

Sugar Skulls
Shops, homes and cemeteries are covered in special things for the festival, which include Marigold flowers, special bread, some of which is sweet rather like a hot cross bun, some of which is plain like a crusty bread roll and some of which is made into shapes resembling skulls. Skulls also feature in chocolate and sugar varieties.

As the festival is around the time of Halloween, shops and houses are also adorned with Halloween decorations in black, orange and purple and there are lot of pumpkins and pumpkin heads.

A delicious pumpkin based dessert is prepared this time of year, presumably timed with Halloween and pumpkin season. A whole pumpkin is cut into large chunks and boiled/steamed (seeds, skin and all) with some water (about 1/3 of the pot of pumpkin), panella (which is like a hard form of brown sugar), anise and cinnamon sticks. Bring the water to the boil, simmer and stir until pumpkin is soft. It can be served hot, but people prefer to let is go cold and eat it that way. The liquid becomes a sweet syrup, the flesh is fruity and sweet, the pumpkins seeds are eaten once the husks are removed (although no-one explained that to me initially), but people don't eat the skin. Overall a really simple, tasty dish.

Special Day of the Dead food is also prepared based on what the deceased enjoyed eating and drinking. In our house we prepared Mole Poblano, rice and hot chocolate. We were able to eat and enjoy some of this delicious food, but about half of it was sat on the offertry table for the deceased to enjoy. This felt like a bit of a waste of good food to me, so I negotiated a little with Dona Rosa regarding how much food the 3 visiting deceased would need. When she explained that the food needed to nourish them for a year, my efforts to reduce the amount of food we needed seemed groundless.

In addition to the food we made, we also bought fruit, bread, marigold flowers, candles to guide the deceased to the offertry table and glasses of water to refresh them.
Our offertry table in the house

The biggest day during the week of the Day of the Dead festival seems to be on November 2nd and that is the day we'll make an offering for Dona Rosa's recently deceased husband. We will probably also visit the cemetery that day, which I am expecting will have rather a fiesta type atmosphere.  

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