To Celebrate La Dia De Los Muertos, we need to start with an understanding and appreciation as to how this will benefit our lives, both of those who are rediscovering our roots as well as those who are wishing to enhance ourselves by learning about other cultures. The first thing that celebrating La Dia De Los Muertos will do for you is to help you better deal with the positive aspect of death in our lives. Death is surely something that each of us must face at some point in our lives, with that of our own passing or that of someone we know.
By honoring the memory of those who have passed on, we are honoring our own lives. By spending positive time in the celebration of the life we shared with those who have died we can then be more thankful of the life we ourselves are gifted with. Celebrating The Day of The Dead or La Dia De Los Muertos, we take a little time off and stop to consider that our lives are indeed fleeting and that those we love will not be with us forever. In one way or another, we are acknowledging in a positive and healthy way the fact the we ourselves are immortal.
This simple pause helps us to reflect on the wonderful thoughts that those who have died have left us. This ritual gives us time to share with younger generations the fond memories of those who were worthy of our love and share with the living the things that our dead relatives used to enjoy.
The ritual of La Dia De Los Muertos once was strictly a ritual celebrated by the Native Americans of the South and Central Americas. This holiday is a time when we believe that the veil, or division, between the afterlife and the living is made easier to cross allowing our loved ones that have died to come back and share a time with us again. As Hispanic Catholics, this would not be in opposition of our faith where we believe in praying to the saints that have gone on before us for guidance, enlightenment or intervention on our behalf. The major difference is in the communion of the Saints in practice as opposed to in abstraction. El Dia De Los Muertos is evidence of that communion made real and evidenced in the honoring of memory of our past relatives and the continuation of the traditions of our beliefs.
Another reason we can benefit by celebrating El Dia De Los Muertos is we can teach our younger generations to understand and appreciate what life we are given and to make sure we create for our family good memories that would entice them to continue celebrating life here and after we pass away from this world we now share. By celebrating La Dia De Los Muertos with our loved ones, we can teach them to remember what their elders have done for us by taking a day to remember your personal family legacy. Sad is the tree which has no roots and sad then would also be the child. For just as a tree needs roots by which to feed itself and to be nourished so does a child have that same need. Moreover, arenít we, after all, deep inside, just children playing at adult games? Some realities will never be removed like the value of family and the sweetest gift, life.
So letís Party!
In planning our alter the only thing to remember is plan it in celebration and tribute to your dead relatives. Alters vary, from region to region based on ancestral influences, as well as varying due to the financial abilities each family has. Some families use the traditional style of building an alter at the burial sites of those family members who have died and join in a celebration at the gravesite with picnics, music and family fun. Many of us have traveled to places where we do not have any relatives near by who are buried or the weather will not permit this form of celebration. As an alternate for those who cannot go to an actual grave for this day, plan on a Dia De Los Muertos alter inside your house.
Here is a short shopping list of the items you will definitely need for your alter.
Dia De Los Muertos must have. Itís what all the best dressed alters are wearing this year.
*Flowers: fresh or seasonal flower Marigolds or Cockscombs are often used but may not be readily available in al areas but do try to make sure they are yellow in color.
Additionally making paper flowers to decorate your alter gives it an authentic feel and a reason to sit around with loved ones talking about good memories while building new ones.
*Sugar skulls (a quick recipe to follow) inscribed with the names of the dead on them
*Pan De Muerto (quick recipe to follow)
*Homemade or store brought Skeletons: These should be funny and inviting images of the dead doing things that are fun, scary or grotesque images are never used in this ceremony.
*A selection of the deceased favorite foods and drink
*Salt to season the dish is always provided
*A wash basin with water and a towel to refresh ones self from the journey from the netherworld to this and also to freshen up when getting ready to depart
*A cup of fresh water to drink after a long dry journey
*Cigarettes for those who were smokers
*Extra sweets and a toy for those who were children
* Holy water if you are Catholic (for blessing the alter and for the dead relative to use to bless themselves)
First we need to choose an area. Maybe a table or a shelf. Decorate this area with pictures of your loved ones. This is to bring to mind of all who come the image of that person when they were with us in this life. Then set up a tape player or CD playing the style of music this person enjoyed. Now didnít that set the mood? Now that the mood is set, and their image is fresh in your mind, letís get down to really making this Dia De Los Muertos a special one. After all, for many of us this may be our first time; yet for others we may have lost our zeal for it so we can embrace the holiday anew.
To set up a simple Dia De Los Muertos alter, drape the intended table or shelf with a fancy covering and place the pictures upon the alter. Place candles around the alter, you will want the area to look lively and bright once lit up. Place your incense where you feel it is appropriate. While you are doing these things, keep in mind the person or people you are celebrating and talk amongst yourselves about the good times you shared. Remember, La Dia De Los Muertos is a celebration!
Next bring that tape player or CD player over to the alter. Now youíre really moving along. Letís set out the flowers and begin to decorate the alter. Set flowers all around the alter and make sure you make a few hand made paper flowers. Time for making things with our hands seems to be escaping us but it is very beneficial for your health to work with your hands from time to time. If your purchased or made papel picado, go ahead and put it on the alter now. Remember you are setting a place for you and your family to meet and share a meal with your deceased relative.
Set out the salt now along with the cup of water. If this is your first Dia De Los Muertos, you might have an early party guest, you never know. At one time, this was a season and not just a day, so letís be good hosts and be ready for our guests. In that thinking, letís set out our washing basin and hand towel. Once your dead relatives have refreshed themselves, they might enjoy watching as you and your family in good spirits now finish setting up for the fun.
Set up your skeletons to do funny and interesting things that you dead relatives enjoyed doing. This is a wonderful time to talk to children about life and death. To teach them that they should accept that life is a precious gift never to be wasted and that death is natural and never to be feared. This is an awesome and wonderful time to share how special your children are to you, a reason for them to want to care for the gift of life, and how wonderful their ancestors are, a reason for them to live life the best that they can. Let your relatives live on in your memories and build the gift of sharing this for generations to come.
Once you have reached this point in preparing for your Dia De Los Muertos celebration, itís time to start setting out the food. Set out the sweets first, after all, life was too short to not have dessert, so why not begin starting your holiday meals with dessert. Set out the meal you have prepared for your relative. Remember, this should be foods that were enjoyed by your relative. Make sure you have plenty set aside for you and your celebrating family to enjoy some too. What is a party without good food, right? Make sure if your past relative enjoyed a good drink with or after dinner that you set some on the alter for them.
Now you are ready to really have a good time. Light your candles and incense and wait for your living and dead relatives to arrive. When they do arrive, offer those who came to celebrate with you a drink of water and a plate of the dish you have prepared or for more fun and relaxation, and serve your living relatives buffet style.
Remember to make this a happy time. We are celebrating the life of our dead relatives in both this world and the next. It is a time to remember them and share a few precious moments reunited as a family again. Laugh and enjoy this time. Focus on talking about your dead relatives, praying to them and renewing you faith in life, God and the mysteries that no one knows the answers to. Until we pass through the veil of death, that, for this brief season we are blessed to have thin so our relatives and we may peek into each otherís world and say, ďI still remember you, I pray for you and I love you.Ē
May we never forget who we really are.
Recipes: These recipes are going to be quick ones so you can focus on the celebrating and meaning of it. As each year passes build your own collection of recipes that are more authentic as we who are native Hispanics have ours passed on from generations passed. However, for this year, letís enjoy the real meaning behind El Dia De Los Muertos.
Sugar Skulls: Go to a craft store and buy some skull candy molds, its Halloween after all, so they should be available. This will make it easier, but if they do not have any just mold the skulls by hand for a more authentic look and less clean up.
2 cups of granulated sugar
2 teaspoons of meringue powder
2 teaspoons of water
Mix the dry ingredients together in the bowl. Sprinkle the water in and continue to mix until the sugar is completely moistened and becomes the consistency of moist sand. Scoop some of the mixture into the mold and pack it evenly and firmly. Place the piece of cardboard on top of the mold and quickly flip it over so the sugar skull pops out. Very carefully slide it onto a flat surface.
Continue making the rest of the skulls. Let them dry for 24 hours in a dry place.
Once these skulls dry use small tubes of decorators icing, food coloring and paint brushes, colored sugar or other cake decorating items and decorate your skulls.
Pan De Muerto: Once again, this is a quick make recipe using store brought bread dough so the kids can get in on the fun and you all can enjoy sharing this Holiday. I thought up this recipe for those of you, me included, who have very little extra time due to work and family obligations. When I am una Abuela, maybe I can take the time to do the old-fashioned recipes de mi Abuela. Until then, here is our cheat sheet.
Store brought bread dough either canned or frozen
Anise seeds or extract
One can of store brought crescent rolls or frozen bread dough. Thaw dough if it is frozen following the directions. Work some sugar and anise into the dough by kneading it. Let the dough rise, punch it down. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and grease a cookie sheet or spray it with nonstick cooking spray. Cut balls off the dough and begin rolling and shaping these into bones to lay across the loaves you make with the dough or shape into skull shaped loaves. Bake until lightly browned.
Brush tops with a sugar glaze made of melted butter and sprinkle with additional sugar.
I hope you all enjoy Este Dia De Los Muertos!
Don't forget to check into the Forum and let us know how you celebrated this day. http://forums.bellaonline.com/postlist.php?Cat=0&Board=324
If you love poetry check out my book at Amazon.com
Lamentations of the Caves By Rebecca Cuevas De Caissie