Saludos de Tepoztlan, Mexico. My mom brought me to this beautiful town for a little culinary vacation at La Villa Bonita and we’ve been fortunate to be here during Day of the Dead, a major cultural celebration that takes place throughout Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America (as well as in many homes in the United States, of course). Beginning around October 31st, families prepare to welcome the spirits of deceased family members back into the home for a brief visit. Day of the Dead is actually celebrated over two days, the 1st and 2nd of November. Although it may sound sad or even macabre to non-Latin sensibilities, it’s a very joyous occasion here in Mexico and I’ve been so delighted to learn more about it and to take part in the celebrations with our hosts. Here are several photos and a bit more information about this wonderful tradition.
Marigolds play a huge role in the Dia del los Muertos celebrations. They decorate doorways, altars (ofrendas), and graves and—perhaps most important—they’re used to create a pathway leading into the home, so the deceased souls can easily find their way back inside to enjoy the elaborate offering of food and entertainment the family has prepared for them. With our La Villa Bonita host, Chef Ana Garcia, we visited the market in Cuernavaca to buy masses of marigolds to create the many beautiful decorations and pathway shown above, as well as food and other decorations for her home and the ofrenda.
We helped Ana prepare the ofrenda, dedicated to her grandmother and great grandmother. The altar typically includes a cooked whole chicken, salt and water, pan de muertos (sweet bread, often baked in the shape of skulls and other figures), incense, candles, more marigolds and a photo of the deceased. It may also include any number of other items, often things that the deceased greatly enjoyed during their time in this world. For example, tequila is popular in ofrendas; for the spirit of Ana’s grandmother, we left her favorite cocktail ingredients: vodka and tonic. I love to imagine her strolling in along our golden path of marigolds and kicking back with a tall, cool glass of vodka tonic, taking in the beautiful vistas of Tepoztlan.
On the evening of November 1st, many Mexican families open the doors of their homes to anyone and everyone, offering hot beverages and treats and an opportunity to view the altars they’ve created for their loved ones. Ana and her husband Robb took us to nearby Ocotepec, where this tradition is particularly lively. There were lines around the block for many homes! We also took a dark walk through the cemetery, where some families had begun to clean and decorate the graves of their family members in preparation for the big celebration the following day.
We returned to Ocotepec the next morning to find the cemetery transformed into an explosion of color and festive activity, including live music and picnics at many grave sites. Even the humblest graves were tidy and festooned with bright flowers. Those who have died during the past year receive the most elaborate decorations (see Roberto’s, below). It was an amazing and undeniably upbeat scene... a real eye-opener for this gringo (gringa?!)
There have been many other incredible experiences on this trip, including lots of great food, of course! I’ll share more in my next post.
..... betsy .....