Da de los Muertos, also known as the Day of the Dead, is a Latin American holiday that is especially popular in Mexico. This special holiday, observed annually on November 1st and 2nd, honours the lives of those who have died. It is believed that at this time, the souls of the dead return to visit their loved ones. Contrary to popular belief, Dia de los Muertos is not a sad or depressing holiday, but rather a time of joy and celebration of life!
Method 1 Honoring Your Loved Ones
1. Put on Day of the Dead make-up. On the Day of the Dead, many people like to wear makeup that resembles a sugar skull. After you’ve painted your face white, draw large coloured circles around your eyes. You can make “stitches” on your lips and around your mouth. Make a nose out of paint and decorate your face with flowers or spiderwebs.
2. For the holiday, put on a costume. On Dia de los Muertos, many people wear clothing with sugar skulls or skeleton prints, such as shirts, dresses, or leggings. You can also wear shells and dance to “wake up” the dead, or even dress up as the deceased.
Some women dress up as Calavera Catrina, wearing long, flowing, brightly coloured lace gowns with flower crowns and sugar skull makeup.
Children will sometimes dress up in costume and approach strangers on the street to request a calaverita (a small gift of money). They do not, however, knock on doors, as they do on Halloween.
3. Pay a visit to your loved ones’ graves. Clean the grave and decorate it with ofrendas (offerings) such as “cempaschitl” (orange marigolds) or “Flor de Muerto” (“Flower of the Dead”), which are thought to attract the souls of the dead. You can even make a path from the grave to your home out of flower petals to assist your loved ones in finding their way. Place trinkets and the deceased’s favourite candies on the ground.
Deceased children are usually remembered on November 1, while deceased adults are remembered on November 2.
Bring toys and sugar skulls for the children (los angelitos or little angels), and bottles of their favourite alcoholic beverage for the adults (tequila, mezcal, pulque).
You can visit your loved ones’ graves at any time during the holiday, or even spend the entire night there eating, drinking, talking, playing cards, and listening to music.
4. Place pillows and blankets throughout your home. Traditionally, people who celebrate Da de los Muertos place a pillow and blanket in their home for each of their deceased loved ones. This is done so that the spirits of the dead can rest after their journey, as it is believed that they visit their loved ones during this time.
5. Play some music. Listen to live mariachi music or play a favourite song or recording of your loved one. Enjoy the music and commemorate the deceased’s life. Some people even hold parades through the cemetery, playing music, dancing, and celebrating while stopping at the gravestones of their loved ones.
6. Write literary calaveras. Calaveras literarias (“literary skulls”), also known as panteones, are epitaph-style short poems. These poems are satirical or humorous, and they frequently make fun of your loved ones’ quirks or embarrassing moments. You can even include images of your loved one or Dapper Death and his Dame in your poem.
Calaveras literarias were traditionally written in four-line stanzas with the second line rhymed with the last line, or five-line stanzas with the third line rhymed with the last line. Many of these poems are written in blank verse and are no more than one page long in modern times.
For example, if your loved one was a bad bullfighter, you could write a short poem about how they struggled or failed during the fight. Humor is frequently used in the calaveras literarias.
7. Make your own Day of the Dead masks. On Dia de los Muertos, this is an excellent activity for children. Draw a skull or trace a template from the internet. Decorate the mask in a traditional style or make your own. Cut the mask out, punch a hole on each side, and tie a string through each hole. Tie the mask around your head and go out to party.
Masks can be half-faced or full-faced. Skulls and flowers are traditional designs.
You can decorate your mask however you want with crayons, markers, puffy paint, glitter glue, and so on.
8. Create an altar in memory of the deceased. You can make an altar for one person or an altar for a group of people. Fill the altar with favourite foods and trinkets from the people’s lifetime. Decorate it with candles, flowers, and a framed photograph of the person or people being remembered. Spend time at the altar telling loving and amusing stories about the deceased.
Many people choose to pray and decorate the altar with a Christian cross and statues or pictures of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Catrina figures (costumed females with skeleton faces) are popular altar decorations.
Method 2 Making Ofrendas (Offerings)
1. Make a special dinner for yourself. Include a plate setting for each person whose memory you wish to honour, as well as a favourite dish from their menu. Invite your family to join you in celebrating and sharing stories about your deceased loved ones. Calaveras, calabaza en tacha, atole, and pan de muerto are among the most popular offerings.
2. Make calaveras. Calaveras are sugar skulls from Mexico. This is a fun activity for the whole family, and it’s especially enjoyable to eat, because calaveras are served to both the living and the dead. To make your own, combine 1 teaspoon (4.93 mL) meringue powder with 1 cup (237 mL) granulated sugar, then add 1 teaspoon (4.93 mL) water and thoroughly combine. Pack the mixture into a mould and set it aside to dry overnight.
Decorate the calaveras with coloured icing, sequins, feathers, and other embellishments.
Sugar skulls can also be purchased “ready made” and then decorated.
3. Make a tacha of calabaza. Calabaza en tacha (candied pumpkin) is a popular and traditional Da de los Muertos dish. Bring 2 pounds (0.907 kg) piloncillo, 4 cinnamon sticks, 4 cups (1 litre) water, and the juice and zest of 1 orange to a boil in a large saucepan. Cut the flesh of one 5-pound (2.25-kg) pumpkin into strips and add it to the recipe. Simmer for an hour or two, or until the vegetables are tender, before serving.
Piloncillo is unrefined brown sugar from Mexico; to substitute, combine 2 teaspoons (9.86 mL) molasses with every 1/4 cup (59 mL) brown sugar.
This recipe makes enough calabaza en tacha for 6-8 people.
4. Serve with atole. Atole is a masa-based warm porridge-like drink. To make it, combine 1/2 cup (118 mL) fresh masa and 1/4 cup (59 mL) hot water in a blender. Transfer it to a saucepan and stir in a cinnamon stick and the seeds of one vanilla bean until it thickens. Remove from heat after mixing in 3-4 tablespoons (44-59 mL) piloncillo. Remove the cinnamon stick and vanilla bean seeds from the pan.
You can serve atole plain or with 1 cup (237 mL) pureed fruit, such as pineapple or strawberries, before serving.
This recipe makes about 5-6 servings of atole.
5. Prepare the dough for the pan de muerto. Pan de muerto (Spanish for “bread of the dead”) is a sweet egg bread that comes in a variety of shapes. This is a traditional Dia de los Muertos dish and a fun activity to do with the family. To make it, follow these steps:
In a large mixing bowl, combine 1/2 packet (3.5 g) active-dry yeast and 1/4 cup (59 mL) warm water and set aside for 10 minutes.
1/4 cup (59 mL) La Lechera sweetened condensed milk and 1/4 cup (1/2 stick or 59 mL) unsalted butter, melted over medium heat
To the yeast mixture, stir in 1/2 teaspoon (2.46 mL) anise seeds, 1/4 teaspoon (1.23 mL) salt, and the La Lechera mixture.
Mix in 2 large eggs and 1 cup (237 mL) flour with a wooden spoon.
In small increments, add 14 cup (296 mL) flour, stirring well until the dough comes together.
6. Make the dough by kneading it. Knead the dough for about 5 minutes, or until it is smooth, elastic, and no longer sticky.
Place the dough in a large greased mixing bowl and wrap it in greased plastic wrap.
Allow the dough to rise for 1 hour in a warm place, or until it has doubled in size.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
7. Form the dough. Form the dough into a loaf or a shape like a skull or angel.
To make a skull, take 3 tablespoons of dough (44.36 mL) and roll it into a ball. Make a loaf out of the larger dough.
2 of the balls should be rolled into long worm shapes to form the bones on top of the bread. Drape the two worm-shaped dough pieces over the loaf, forming a “X.”
Make the remaining ball into a skeleton head and place it gently on top of the “X.”
8. Make a pan de muerto. Place the loaf on the prepared baking sheet and set aside for 30 minutes to rise in a warm place. Preheat the oven to 350°F (176.6 degrees C).
Brush the top of the loaf with an egg wash made of 1 egg yolk and 2 teaspoons (9.86 mL) water.
Bake for 20 minutes, then remove from the oven and brush with egg wash again. 1 tablespoon (14.79 mL) granulated sugar on top
Return to the oven for about 20 minutes, or until the loaf is golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped. Serve warm or at room temperature.
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