Honoring the Past and the Passed

By Sheri Harshberger

I wrote this article a few years ago, and thought it would be nice to offer it again.

Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead is a traditionally Mexican holiday celebrated on November 1st and 2nd, the days following All Hallows Eve or Halloween.  November 1st is All Saint's Day and November 2nd is the Day of the Dead (some regions designate November 1st for passed children and November 2nd for passed adults--hence the reference to both days as Day of the Dead).  The purpose of the Day of the Dead is to remember and honor family and friends (or pets) who have passed on.  The intent is for the remembrance to be festive and a celebration, like a family reunion would be, and for the honored ones to have been important or touched the life of the living in some way.  Each year, the celebration of Dia de los Muertos spreads... it may have started in Mexico, but the message is a universal one.

Some ways that Dia de los Muertos can be celebrated are:

Visit and clean graves of friends and loved ones.

Create an ofrenda (altar) dedicated to one or more passed loved ones.  They can be as elaborate or as simple as desired.  The key is for the altar to be meaningful.  They can include candles, photos, fruit, sugar skulls, traditional skull dolls called Catrinas or anything else felt to be important.

Prepare the favorite foods of the dead at mealtime and leave them on the table.  These foods are eaten later with the understanding that the dead have consumed the "spirit" of the food.  Pan de Muerto (bread) or cake can be made also. 

Make and decorate calaveras or sugar skulls as gifts or as altar decorations (DON'T eat them!)  During the creation process, they are very susceptible to moisture in the air so they cannot be made properly on rainy or high humidity days.  If you want to make colored skulls, add food coloring to the WATER not the sugar or dry ingredients.  Kits and molds are available from online sources and I am sure that they are available in stores that carry Mexican items.  The skulls are very simplistic in design, and the tradition predates molds... so I think that if the molds could not be found, the skulls could be sculpted.  There are several recipes to be found online, most of which use meringue powder to help bind the sugar together so that the mixture will keep the shape of the skull.  There are a few also that just call for egg whites or powdered egg whites and baking.  Baking at a low temperature (around 200 deg F) is suggested if trying to make skulls on a high humidity day cannot be avoided.  Martha Stewart Magazine suggests www.mexicansugarskull.com as a source for sugar skull supplies and blank sugar skulls.  You can also make skulls out of clay or other things, or buy other types of skulls if the sugar skulls are not appealing.

Decorate altars, graves or homes with marigolds.

Which ever way you choose to celebrate Dia de los Muertos, make sure that it is a festive and fun occasion!

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