Holidays Worth Traveling to Mexico For: The Day of the Dead

With Halloween coming up, there is always a rush to buy the obligatory costumes of witches, wizards or zombies, stock up on candy and then the trick or treating can begin. However, in Mexico, there is an extra tradition that happens on the days immediately after Halloween called the Day of the Dead. In reality, it combines two different holidays: All Saints’ Day, which is on November 1, and Day of the Dearly Departed (or All Souls’ Day), which is on November 2. On these two days, people gather at the graves of their loved ones and celebrate them as if they were alive. If the graveyard is too far away, an altar with traditional candies, food and drink will go with the décor of papel picado (die-cut crepe paper with block-print like images of skulls, celebration and food), candles and cempazuchitl, also known as Mexican marigolds.

The tradition is to lay out the favorite food and drink of the dearly departed, along with their photo and pan de muerto (Dead Bread) which is made with anise seeds and is a round bun dusted with sugar. When you go to the cemetery, people sometimes take a mariachi band and serenade the grave with songs that the departed enjoyed. In Mexico, death is looked at as something to be laughed at, and with. No one is safe from it, and with this comes a celebration of life. Everywhere you go, people buy dead bread and take it to work, along with jugs of hot chocolate and maybe some champurrado, a chocolate corn flour drink that can be made with milk or water. It is an incredible pairing that will always have you back for seconds.

Another traditional dish that appears during this holiday is mole con pollo and arroz a la Mexicana. Mole con pollo is a chicken dish with a gravy sauce that can have a combination of herbs, chili peppers, spices and even chocolate. Arroz a la Mexicana is fried red rice with cubed carrots and peas. Enjoy these two dishes along with your bread and chocolate. Tamales are also a part of the festivities, as a food that everyone enjoys. Then there is the corn meal mix with lard, filled with your choice of chicken, pork or even a sweet version with pineapples or raisins.

In the Yucatán, where the Mayan culture is prevalent, there is a dish called mucbil pollo, which is similar to the tamale in that it is wrapped in banana leaves, but that’s where the similarities end. Filled with pork or chicken and a red sauce filling, you are sure to find that this special dish is a welcome savory addition to your table. They are normally baked in pits in the ground, using rocks heated by fire, giving the food a very unique flavor. In the Yucatán, the Day of the Dead is also called Hanal Pixan (pronounced “ha-nal pee-shan”), and means “food that gives life to the soul”. It’s celebrated on November 2. This is a day of remembrance and properly attending the souls of your loved ones.

The holiday is usually associated with the Catrina, a figure made popular by a caricaturist of the mid-1800s named José Guadalupe Posada. His representation of the Catrina, a skeleton wearing a large brimmed hat and a Victorian dress, is still used to refer to this holiday. Look for this figure when you are traveling to Mexico in October.

As can be imagined, the closeness in date to Halloween has created a combination of the two celebrations that you can either love or hate. Costumed children normally go door to door in the neighborhood as well as to the local stores, asking for their “Halloween” in the form of coins or candy. Little witches, the superheroes of the moment and all of your favorite characters come to life on that day, accompanying the dead that very next day in a not-so-somber moment to recall and live.

Regardless of how you respect your dead, you are sure to find the celebration a wonderful introduction to the incredible depth that is Mexican culture. In this country, no festivity is complete without food, music and drink, and there is plenty of that anywhere you go.

Post Tags:

Leave a Reply

* Required Fields.
Your email will not be published.