Day of the dead is a joyful celebration, welcoming home relatives whom have died, to partake of a feast with family, and to celebrate the children & ongoing life, and life's renewal. Orange and Pink to celebrate the joyful return of the departed, and purple to show mourning .. offerings are made, often in clay jars, and include favority foods, and often flowers, such as yellow marigolds, each item signifying special symbolism.
Sugar skulls are made & exchanged with the living, and it is even better to get one with your name embossed into the skull: a cake or bread is made, and a plastic skeleton is placed inside, and it is lucky to get the piece with the plastic skeleton in it. I'll post the recipe to make the bread, since I found it today & it seems like a wonderful bread. Some regions just partake of the bread and don't set out meals for deceased relatives, other regions set out food at the table, and others go to the gravesite to set out food & candles. Much of the customs come from Aztec descent, but are close to All Souls day practices, so the two were quickly integrated when Spain came into Mexico.
Day of the Dead has, however remained its own unique and wonderful celebration, and I especially love how it reminds us to love our ancestors with joy, happiness and to celebrate life in the welcoming of the presence of our loved one's souls on their journey to visit family.
Some of the texts also indicated that the alter would have favorite items of the deceased relative(s) to help entice them to come back & to find the place to go.. and some even spread flower petals from the nearest road, up to the alter & to the meal as a symbolic path for the souls 'returning home, and needing a meal after the long journey' Unique observances that exemplify the fusion of Mesoamerican and European cultures, particularly regarding religious practices, render Mexico's celebration of los Dias de los Muertos as the most distinctive holiday on the nation's calendar. Customs associated with this festive time of remembrance defy any strict formula, for the practices specific to each region vary considerably. Among the common threads that run nationwide are family visits to local cemeteries to decorate the tombs of deceased relatives, and the installation of memorial altars where special offerings are laid out with the intenion of calling home the spirits of the dead.
In the pre-Hispanic era the Aztecs honored their dead with celebrations tied in with the harvest season. The ancient calendar called for festivities in remembrance of deceased children, called Miccailhuitontli (Little Feast for the Dead), around mid-August, immediately followed by Hueymiccaihuitl (Great Feast for the Dead) and Xocotl Huetzi (Falling of Fruit). Conserving some aspects of these annual rituals, but linking them instead to the observance of All Saints Day, November 1, and All Souls Day, November 2, was a factor that helped early Spanish missionaries successfully bring about the conversion of Mexico's indigenous people to the Christian religion. It is precisely this synthesis of old and new worlds customs that makes Dia de Muertos so intriguing.
According to century's old beliefs, the souls of the dead return to earth for one day of the year, wending their way home once the sun passes its zenith on November first. This is the time for families to begin setting up the traditional altar de muertos, laying out an offering of items intended to draw the dead and ease their journey homeward.
The altar in usually set up on a tabletop where different sized boxes or shelves are stacked up and draped with hand-embroidered napkins and tablecloths. A backdrop in created with swags of fine cloth or purple crepe paper, along with bright tissue paper cut-outs--called papel picado. Key elements of the ofrenda, laid out in a colorful and eye-pleasing symmetrical composition, are steeped in symbolism with roots in both Christian and indigenous beliefs.
The use of papel picado is derived from the Aztec practice of using paper banners in connection with important religious rituals. In its finest form today, the skillful hands of craftsmen wielding sharp blades are seen in the whimsical skeletons, flowers, birds and intricate windowpane designs carved out of delicate papel de china (tissue paper). Housewives and school children produce simplier versions of the cut-outs by folding the paper and snipping out geometric patterns with scissors. Common colors selected for the altar de muertos --purple to symbolize mourning and hot pink or bright orange to signify the joyful return of the departed--underline the bittersweet nature of the holiday.
A small ceramic brazier placed on the altar is used for burning copal, a pine resin incense the Aztecs used long ago in offerings to their gods. The pungent odor is believed to attract the souls of the dead, as well as to ward off evil spirits. Another lure is the distinctive fragance of the marigold, the traditional Day of the Dead flower still known by its Nahuatl moniker, cempazuchitl *. Petals of the golden blossom are often laid out on the ground to form a path leading to the altar. Marigolds may also be strung in garlands, fixed onto a wreath or cross-shaped base, or arranged in clay pots to adorn the offering. Stalks of deep red cockscombs and other seasonal blossoms may be mixed in for added color.
(* Sometimes written zempasuchitl, cempoalxochitl , or in other forms. Nahautl words are subject great variation in spellings. As the language was originally expressed graphically through hieroglyphs, early Spanish missionaries based themselves on phonetics to commit words to writing in their own language.)
Elements of the ofrenda coming from Christian tradition include candles and votive lights--representing faith and hope-- used to light the way for departed souls. In some homes one candle is illuminated for each deceased member of the family. Four candles may be placed in a cross formation, pointing out the four cardinal points to serve as kind of compass. Similarly, a cross may be formed at the foot of the altar using marigold petals, earth or ashes. Images of favorite saints are frequently placed on the altar to elicite special divine protection for loved ones in the afterlife.
Family photographs are set out on the altar to recall the individuals being honored. A washbasin, towel, soap and mirror are placed nearby so that returning spirits can freshen-up before beginning to feast on their once favorite foods.
A typical regional repast is set out in assorted clay pots. The menu may range from a simple fare of tamales to a complete meal of meat or poultry in mole, pepian, or adobo sauce, accompanied by a platter of rice. A dish of salt is included both as a seasoning and an element of purification. These foods are invariably accompanied by the traditional pan de muerto --sugar-coated breads shaped either into round loaves adorned with bits of dough shaped like bones and tears, or human forms, called ánimas (souls).
Chunks of calabaza en tacha (pumpkin cooked in a brown sugar syrup) are indispensable to satiate the sweet tooth, as are skulls, coffins and other deathly figures made of sugar, chocolate or honey-sweetened amaranth seed. Sugar skulls are often inscribed across the forehead with the departed loved one's name. Other goodies may include slices of alfajor - coconut candy, bits of sugar cane and assorted fresh fruits of the season that may be studded with small papel picado banners.
A jug of fresh drinking water, a glass of fruit-flavored agua fresca, and a cup of atole or chocolate will be offered as thirst-quenchers, while pulque, beer or tequila are served up as reminders of the good times spent on earth.
The altar may be personalized with appurtenances that were essential in the deceased's daily life. A petate (straw mat) denotes both the traditional bed and precursor to the wooden coffin. For a woman there may be a metate and a molcajete for grinding corn masa and other cooking ingredients, a rebozo (shawl), and a basket filled with needlework materials. A gourd for carrying water, a machete, hat, serape, morral (shoulder bag), and pair of huaraches are typically displayed for a man.
A guitar, violin or other instrument might be provided for a defunct musician. The former smoker will be treated to a pack of his or her favorite brand, accompanied by the requisite box of matches. Small skeleton figures exlusive to the person's trade or profession may also be added.
For the angelitos (little angels) who have died in infancy, and presumably free of sin, the ofrenda is laid out one day early, in conjunction with All Saints Day. The offering for little ones customarily features traditional wooden or tin toys, along with sweets and a cup of atole or milk. Floral arangements often feature nube (baby's breath).
As a whole the altar de muerto makes for a scenic setting where departed spirits will feel at home to feast and hold a reunion with living relatives. This was a particularly well-written article from the numerous articles I read, and can be found here: http://www.mexconnect.com/mex_/travel/dpalfrey/dpofrendas.html
Click the image to go to their store: lots of nice Mexican art items, including
Oaxacan Woodcarvings, Tin Art, Mirrors, Dead of the Dead sculptures, Masks & more..
Pan De Muertos
Recipe for bread
This is a version of the bread that is made for the November 2 celebration known as the Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) in Mexico. You can also mold the bread into different shapes like angels and animals.
Ingredientes - Ingredients:
* Una taza y media de harina - 1 1/2 cups of flour
* Media taza da azúcar - 1/2 cup of sugar
* Una cucharadita de sal - 1 teaspoon of salt
* Una cucharada de semillas de anís - 1 tablespoon of anise seed
* Dos paquetitos de levadura - 2 packets of dry yeast
* Media taza de leche - 1/2 cup of milk
* Media taza de agua - 1/2 cup of water
* Media taza de mantequilla - 1/2 cup of butter
* Cuatro huevos - 4 eggs
* Entre tres y cuatro y media tazas de harina - from 3 - 4 1/2 cups of flour
Mix all dry ingredients together except the 3 - 4 1/2 cups of flour.
In a small pan, heat the milk, the water, and the butter. Add the liquid mixture to the dry mixture.
Mix in the eggs and 1 1/2 cups of flour. Beat well.
Put in the rest of the flour, little by little.
Knead the mixture on a floured board for 9 - 10 minutes.
Put the dough in a greased bowl and allow it to rise until it has doubled in size (about an hour and a half at sea level).
Punch the dough down and reshape it with some "bone" shapes on top to decorate it.
Let it rise another hour.
Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for about 40 minutes.
After baking, sprinkle it with confectioner's sugar and colored sugar.
Mezcle todos los ingredientes secos menos las 3 - 4 1/2 tazas de harina.
En una olla caliente la leche, el agua y la mantequilla. Añada la mezcla líquida a la mezcla de ingredientes secos.
Agregue los huevos y una taza y media de harina. Bátalo bien.
Agregue el resto de la harina poco a poco.
Sobre una tabla enharinada, amase por unos 9 - 10 minutos la mezcla.
Ponga la masa en un recipiente engrasado, y deje que levante hasta que haya doblado su tamaño (aproximadamente hora y media al nivel del mar).
Para que la masa se encoja, déle puñetazos y fórmela de nuevo con unos "huesos" de masa encima para decorarla.
Deje que levante una hora más.
Hornee a 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) por unos 40 minutos.
Después de hornearlo, espolvoréele azúcar glas y azúcar coloreado.