While there are many funeral traditions throughout Mexico and Latin America, the best-known celebration is El Dia de los Muertos, The Day of the Dead, also known as All Souls’ Day, on November 2nd. Officially, it is the one day of the year when dead ancestors return to earth to visit. November 1st is All Saints’ Day, and celebrations begin that evening.
On November 2nd, the family spends the day at the cemetery where loved ones are buried. They clean the area around the grave, wash the tombstone, and place the deceased’s favorite foods around the grave. Huge flower arrangements are also common. Most families also build a small altar – either at the gravesite or at the home or office – and place food offerings and favorite items on it as well.
In fact, food is a central part of Day of the Dead celebrations. Special black plates and bowls are only sold during the last two weeks in October and families – admittedly, mostly women – spend days in advance toiling and making the favorite foods of the deceased. They include pan de muerto – bread of the dead – tamales, sopas, and a variety of beverages, from juices and sodas to beer.
But local bakeries get busy as well, making hundreds of the life-size skull-shaped cakes with the name of the deceased written in frosting on the forehead. In fact, candy and desserts take center stage during Day of the Dead, from chocolate caskets to candy skeletons and sugar skulls. Indeed, many Mexicans will hold onto these candy bones for years.
Modern-day chefs make dishes and drinks that honor the old traditions, but often include a few twists of their own. Here are some recipes to inspire your own celebration.
Lisa Rogak is a freelance writer and New York Times Bestselling author. Her latest book is "And Nothing But The Truthiness: The Rise (and Further Rise) of Stephen Colbert."