Posted in Kafevend Blog

Dia de Muertos

We've covered a variety of topics when it comes to Halloween over the years: from the origin of the celebration, to the role of the pumpkin, and even specifics such as the appropriately themed witch's coffee and a saint worthy of Allhallowtide. Something we haven't tackled yet is the Mexican Day of the Dead celebration- a close parallel to Halloween- and so today we seek to remedy that.

Old beginnings

The Day of the Dead- Dia de Muertos- has a long history. The origin of the holiday has its place in an Aztec festival which celebrated the Goddess Mictecacihautl, Queen of Mictlan (the underworld) who ruled over the afterlife. The Aztec celebration itself traces its roots back through thousands of years to other Mesoamerican cultures who held celebrations for their ancestors. The adoption of the Day of the Dead into Mexican culture is much more recent, particularly in the north of the country. The Christianised population was opposed to the overtly pagan holiday after it became known in the 20th century. However, its adoption as a national holiday by the government in the 21st century has led to its widespread popularity in the country these days.

A public holiday anywhere in the world wouldn't be complete without some traditional foodstuffs, and the Dia de Muertos is no exception; food plays an important part in the festival. Families visit graveyards and create altars known as ofrendas for their deceased to celebrate their lives. Food is placed on these altars- ideally things that the person it is dedicated to once enjoyed. The food isn't left to waste, and is eaten by the relatives along with traditional treats.

Sweet treats

One of those treats is Pan de muerto, or bread of the dead. Pan de muerto is a sweet roll baked in the weeks leading up to the festival on the first and second of November. It is typically shaped like a bun, and often adorned with bone-like shapes protruding from the top and dusted with sugar. Sometimes it is flavoured with anise or orange flower water, though the recipe is traditionally very simple.

Another popular foodstuff is Calavera de alfeñique. These are small moulded skulls made of sugar paste. The technique originally comes from Italy where they were made for religious decorations. They then became popular with the Spanish, who brought the tradition- and sugar itself- with them when they settled in the New World. Interestingly, they are not traditionally made to be eaten, simply serving as decorations for the holiday and discarded afterwards. Some folks obviously felt this was a waste of sugar of course, as there are plenty of edible versions out there too!


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