Friday, October 28, 2011

Dia de los Muertos

Dia de los Muertos at Los Bagels!

El Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead, November 1 and 2, is a national holiday in Mexico.  It's origins are found in ancient ceremonies of indigenous Mexicans.

Death has a unique persona in Mexico which is not found anywhere else in the world.  In the pre-Hispanic cultures death was just a further step in life itself, a step which offered a security and serenity markedly contrasting with the suffering and worries which afflicted mankind in this world of hardships.  Life and death compliment each other.  The ancient Mexicans believed that life issued from death just as death issued from life.

With the introduction of Catholicism, attention was no longer focused on Death itself, but rather on the dead and on the spirits.  And so the Mexican people celebrate every November 2 on the return of their dear departed who, as ethereal souls, come back for one day to their burial place and the home where they lived.

In many homes a ritual altar is prepared to honor the returning souls.  The altars are often adorned with Zempasuchitl, a kind of marigold which is the traditional flower of the dead.  There is incense (copal) and a candle to light the way for each returning soul.  Food is prepared, always the dish of which the dead is fondest in life.  A glass of water is set out and the personal mementos and an image of the person.

For children, delightful toys, usually skeletons made of paper mache and wire are created for the Day of the Dead.  These calaveras or skulls, and dancing skeletons are wonderfully amusing.  All walks of life and occupations are depicted.  there are even toy cardboard coffins from which a skeleton can be made to jump by pulling a string.

Today in Mexico, Day of the Dead is a tradition that is rapidly changing.  Although celebrated traditionally in rural Mexico, in the urban centers the Halloween influence of the United States is evident.  It is important to remember that Dia de los Muertos is not Halloween for its' origin and traditions are different.  It is from the ancient indigenous traditions and beliefs which held that Death defines life and that our deaths illuminate our lives.

We make pan dulce (Mexican sweet bread) everyday, but we produce a special type for Day of the Dead.  It comes in three shapes, (two human forms) men, women and round with crossed bones on top.  They are made from a bread dough which is flavored with cinnamon and sugar and decorated with colored sugars, and are great with Mexican hot chocolate.  They are a symbol of the departed family and friends and are also an offering on the ofrenda.  The bread is baked for both the living and the dead- since antiquity bread has symbolized the mainstay of human life.

Look for Pan de Muerto and ofrendas at all three Los Bagels locations during the Dia da los Muertos celebration, or order it online and have it shipped in for Wednesday November 2nd.

The altar (ofrenda) is central to observing the Day of the Dead and is maintained to ensure good relations between the family on earth and family in the after world.
Whatever the deceased enjoyed in life is remembered in preparing the alter.  Photographs occupy the center, and names are spelled out with cloves on fruits and with pen on nuts. Religious images are placed on the alter, in the hope that the saints thus venerated will intercede for the protection of the soul on its' journey back to the after world.  Decorations may also include a Tree of Death, tombstones, lyres, flowers, skulls and skeletons of all sizes and materials, copal and delicately formed hearts.

Altars can be an eight-course, multi-level feat with enough "soul foods" set out to provide the sustenance required for the visiting soul.  These include dishes traditionally prepared for the Day of the Dead, such as chicken in red or black mole sprinkled with sesame seeds; fruit., beans, tortillas, and tamales made from fresh hand-ground corn; soft drinks; and as always, a glass of water to refresh the travel-wearied souls.  Altars honoring children include a small bowl of milk, special cakes called mamones, copal, pieces of chocolate, little apples, miniature candlesticks and a profusion of toys and sweetmeats. Los Bagels will be offering mole on a bagel, starting October 29th.

Once the honored guest has extracted the essence of the refreshments, they are shared with family and friends, who have often traveled long distances to take part in the family's annual reunion.

Hasta la proxima vida.