An ancient Aztec ritual that was developed to celebrate the lives of loved ones who have passed rather than to mourn them, the ritual (which takes place October 31-November 2nd) was greatly influenced by Spanish colonists in the 16th century, who moved the date from the beginning of the summer to coincide with the Roman Catholic festival Allhallowtide.
Each year, parades with decadent displays, costumes, and decorative skulls are hand-crafted and displayed in celebration of the three-day holiday. Altars are erected in honor of lost loved ones and special items are placed, each taking with it its own special meaning.
The ancestor’s favorite foods are placed on altars as an offering, but no other food is more commonly made during the Day of the Dead celebrations than tamales. Made with corn dough and wrapped with corn husk, tamales are filled with a variety of different ingredients, such as shredded chicken, beef, or pork and seasoned with spicy sauces or sweet jellies and steam cooked.
Elaborate and ornate decorative skulls are made from pure sugar and given to friends and family as gifts. Each intricate design represents vitality, life, and the personality of the individual in receipt of the skull-shaped treat.
Pan de Muertos
“Bread of the dead,” these are semi-sweet breads baked into the shapes of various bones and dusted with sugar, Pan de Muertos is meant to represent the physical bones of ancestors and the soil.
Pumpkin and Amaranth Seeds
Used as offerings of snacks to visiting spirits, these lightweight but plentiful foods are a tasty treat for the celebration. In Aztec times, amaranth seeds were used to make the decorative skulls before sugar became more readily available.
Bottles of spirits are placed on the altars of loved ones to toast their arrival. While agave-based pulque was commonly used in the past, now any type of alcohol favored by the dead can be used as an offering.
To experience the Day of the Dead celebrations in true form, visit Nana’s Mexican Restaurant anytime this week. We’ll be serving up old classics and specials in honor of the holiday, so check out our menu and get ready to celebrate!
Image source, labelled for reuse