This weekend we visited MECA in Houston (Multicultural Education and Counseling through the Arts) for their annual Día de los Muertos exhibit and celebration. Here is a slideshow of what we saw. Look for:
- Ofrendas (the altars families made for their loved ones)
- Food & water left for the visiting spirits (calabaza en tacha, pan de muerto, mole) because they are hungry and thirsy from their journey
- “Favorite items” from hobbies, vices, activities
- Photos, poems, prayers and memories
- Lots of skeletons and skulls
- Cempasuchitl (“flor de muerto“= marigold flowers)
- Candles and incense to light the way Continue reading
As you may know, Day of the Dead- Día de los Muertos- is a holiday celebrated in Mexico, some other countries in Latin America, a few countries in Europe, and the Philippines. In Mexico, skeletons are decorated, dressed-up, and given personalities and activities. Today we’ll make etchings and then prints of skulls and finally decorate them with glitter, sequins, and puffy paint!
Day of the Dead is a holiday celebrated in Mexico, other countries in Latin America, some places in the US with large Hispanic populations, some countries in Europe, and the Philippines. Based on the Catholic holidays of All Saints Day and All Souls Day, “Day of the Dead” generally is a day of remembrance of loved ones who have died, commemorated with visits to the cemetery. Families often light candles at the graves and leave offerings of flowers (especially marigolds, “cempasúchiles“), or for children, sweets and toys. Many people also make an altar in their home, dedicated to their loved ones who have passed away.
Photo: Taken by Tomascastelazo, Creative Commons use.
The weeks leading up to Day of the Dead, shops and markets in Mexico are filled with skeletons (calacas)- dressed up and doing everyday things. They are decorated, whimsical, and funny, and often assume every day activities: playing guitars, working as a carpenter, going fishing, or getting married. They might be made of paper maché, wood, chocolate or sugar. In some parts of Mexico, there is a procession through the town of older teens carrying a coffin with someone dressed as a skeleton. People toss in coins, mandarin oranges, or candy into the coffin. Continue reading
Super-easy, super-delicious: the Mexican recipe of “calabaza en tacha” is a sweet pumpkin dessert that kids will love.
Sweet and delicious pumpkin dessert, many times served on the Day of the Dead
Pumpkin has been cultivated in Mexico for thousands of years. Archeologists have found pumpkin seeds in tombs in Mexico dating back to 7000 BC, and evidence has been found that indigenous farmers cultivated the pumpkin from 6000-5000 BC in Oaxaca and Tehuacán in Central Mexico (which coincidentally is also where the first maize was ever cultivated). The Aztecs and other Mesoamerican indigenous groups used the pumpkin shell as a recipient and cup, pumpkin seeds in sauces, and cooked the pumpkin pulp in clay pots during their fall festival commemorating the dead. Today people all over Mexico typically buy calabaza en tacha in markets and ferias (fall festivals) to celebrate Día de los Muertos, or they might make it at home. Here is a simple recipe that you can enjoy for a dessert that tastes good, and is even nutritious. Continue reading
An ofrenda in a friend’s house in Mexico City
Día de los Muertos, or Todos Santos is a holiday remembering those who have died, celebrated in Mexico, Guatemala, Bolivia, and other Latin American countries. Many families make an “ofrenda” in their homes on a table or shelves to pay tribute to their loved ones who have passed on. This is a collection of treasures, pictures, food, special items and candles to remind the families of their loved ones. The altars are lined with bright tissue paper, ornately cut into different scenes (papel picado). If the altar is for a child, the family might display their toys, and favorite foods, a tiny cup of hot chocolate. One special flower that has been present at Day of the Dead celebrations since the Aztec time are marigolds (cempasúchil), whose smell is thought to awaken the spirits and guide them back home. Continue reading
The perfect introductory story
Ask your children to find Mexico on the map. How far is Mexico from your hometown? What do you know about Mexico? The Day of the Dead, known as “Día de los Muertos” is one of Mexico’s most important celebrations. During the first week of November people remember their loved ones who have died by visiting them in the cemeteries, creating small displays in honor of them, and making certain traditional food. In this small but colorful story, a family in a small town in Mexico prepares for Día de los Muertos, and finally spends the night in the cemetery remembering their grandparents. It is a wonderfully simple story, that touches on all of the important elements of Day of the Dead: the marigolds, mole, pan de muertos, sugar skulls, the candles. The illustrations contain a lot of details, but are quite small. I would not use this book for a class unless I had access to an Elmo (document camera/projector). However, for reading on the couch with my 4 kids, the size was perfect. This is a fantastic book to introduce your children to the Day of the Dead!
The next book is Continue reading
Towns in Mexico, and other Latin American countries each celebrate the first of November differently. In Guatemala and Bolivia, “Todos Santos” (All Saint’s Day) is a time to gather at the cemeteries and leave flowers and food for the spirits of loved ones. In Mexico, “Day of the Dead” is celebrated in a similar fashion, resulting from a combination of pre-Hispanic beliefs merging with the Catholic holiday “All Saint’s Day.” Why do people celebrate death? It is seen as a part of the natural life cycle: flowers that die leave behind seeds to sprout new life, and people who pass on leave many gifts for their families. Day of the Dead is a time to remember the people who have died. One of the most typical foods consumed during this first week of November in Mexico is a bread called “Pan de Muertos,” that is flavored with anise and orange blossom water. Most people in modern Mexico buy it from panaderías (bakeries) that begin to make the bread in the weeks leading up to the holiday. In fact, if you have a significant Mexican population near your city, you might be able to find some pan de muerto outside of Mexico! But in case you are an adventurous cook, I’m sharing a recipe with you here to make this sweet bread at home. Continue reading