Mexican marzipan, known as mazapan, is perhaps one of the simplest candy treats to make. After all, it’s typically only got two ingredients: ground peanuts and powdered sugar. Earlier this week, a friend at work brought me a bag full of mazapanes from her cousin’s trip to Mexico. He had given her too many and so I offered to take some of them off her hands. This simple, traditional candy reminds me of my husband’s abuelita Ana and her sweet, sly smile when she talked about her favorite foods. Her eyes twinkled and she would get this contagious grin that started on one side and slowly spread across her mouth, as if she knew the world’s best secret.
¡Feliz Día de Los Muertos!
Today is a day to celebrate the lives of our deceased loved ones. We keep the tradition alive in our house by constructing an altar to honor them, and leaving ofrendas—offerings—to entice the souls home.
This holiday goes back more than 3,000 years to the time of the Aztecs. Originally, it was celebrated in the ninth month of the Aztec calendar (what is now August). When the conquistadores arrived from Spain and felt the month-long celebrations of Día de Los Muertos mocked death, and being that they wanted to convert the native people to honor their own religion, they tried to put a stop to the ritual. But they were met with resistance and instead, the ritual was moved to coincide with the Christian calendar’s All Saints Day (Nov. 1) and All Souls Day (Nov. 2).
Today, many who celebrate this holiday use el Día de Todos los Santos to honor deceased children and Día de Los Muertos for honoring adults. There is no wrong way to do it, though, and you can honor whomever you like on both days if you wish. In some places in Mexico, families visit cemeteries, clean and decorate grave sites and leave their ofrendas there. Many families, like ours, build an altar in their home.
There’s also no wrong way to make an altar—there are common methods (constructing three levels) and typical ofrendas (offerings that represent earth, wind, water and fire), but the point is that you make the altar personal and meaningful to you to honor your deceased loved ones.
I haven’t talked about it here on the blog, but in September, José’s last living grandparent, my suegro‘s mother, passed away in Aguascalientes. Abuelita Ana was 91 years old, and we flew to Mexico to be there with family for the velatorio and entierro. It has been a sad time for our family, but being together with everyone in Mexico made it a little easier. This year our altar is especially dedicated to her memory.
It was difficult when I was going through photos trying to decide which photo of her to use, but definitely therapeutic in a way once I was finished. This year, I even purchased special sugar skulls for my ofrenda from the famous Mondragon family of Toluca; they are one of less than a dozen families in Mexico still dedicated to the art form of alfeñique, and you can read more about them on my post from the other day.
To me, el Día de Los Muertos is one of the most beautiful and meaningful holidays not only in Mexico, but in the world. Tomorrow, I’ll share more about the individual elements on my altar and what they mean, but for today, just a few photos and a short video so you can check it out.
- What do you leave as ofrendas on your altar de muertos?
I can’t help but feel a little jealous. This past weekend my suegros and my cuñada took a road trip from Mexico City to visit Abuelita Ana in Aguascalientes. I’m jealous for two reasons: one obviously being that they spent time with abue, whom I absolutely adore, but two, that they stopped for strawberries in Irapuato on the way back to El D.F. yesterday.
One of my favorite things from our road trip to Aguascalientes this past summer for abue‘s 90th birthday was the quaint little strawberry stands alongside the carretera in Irapuato. It was my first time road-tripping anywhere more than a a few hours outside of Mexico City, and I absolutely loved being able to see so much of the countryside, passing through towns I had previously only ever read about or heard about in stories from family members….