I have written before that Mexican people turn any occasion into a celebration. This is very true on November 2nd when we celebrate “El día de muertos” (Day of the Dead). This celebration is clear evidence that the Spanish Conquista was a collision of cultures rather than a complete conquest. Día de muertos is an amalgam of pre-Hispanic celebrations, thousands of years old, and Catholic believes brought by the foreign invaders.
This celebration, like Mexican people, food and culture in general, varies from region to region, but the thing they all share is the remembrance of friends and family members that have passed away. Most people visit their lost ones at the cemetery where they bring flowers, decorations and pray for their souls. They also built private altars in their houses where they set offerings for the deceased.
The altars are decorated with cempazuchitl (marigold flowers that are strongly associated with this celebration), pictures of the deceased, candy (and in some parts of the country chocolate) skulls, candles, pan de muerto (bread of the dead) and the favorite food and beverages of the departed. It is believed that that day the dead raise from their tombs and these items are offerings for their souls.
This day Mexicans defy death by making fun of it. I know this might sound creepy to some people, but Mexican culture accentuates this practice. Even kids join the fun by writing calaveras (roughly translated skulls) that are stories written in verse about how la flaca (slang for death that translates as the skinny one) will take away friends and family members.
One of the best things about this holiday, like any other Mexican holiday, is the food. People prepare all kinds of food to use as offering for the departed family members. Bun one food that is always served this day is pan de muerto (bread of the dead). This is a soft and sweet bread that is made with anise seeds. Lately, orange has been added to the original recipe. The bread I remember from my childhood was always covered in sugar, but there are some variations that use an orange glaze or sesame seeds. Either way, it is a bread you need to try.
I was planning to make it myself this year, but life got in the way and I had to buy it from the Mexican market where I found these two beautiful kinds of bread. They will be eaten tonight with a big cup of hot Mexican chocolate, just the way it is supposed to be devoured.
If you want to learn more about this colorful Mexican holiday, I invite you to visit this site where Mary J. Andrade shares her stories and beautiful photography about the day of the dead.
For the bread of the dead recipe please visit Meryl’s site. She has a step-by-step and easy to follow recipe to create this delicious bread.