Celebrating Día de los Muertos with friends: Mexican at Heart

Día de los Muertos is this week and as a special treat, I’ve asked some of my friends to send me photos and descriptions of their altars to share here on The Other Side of The Tortilla to show the variety of ways that people celebrate this holiday.

Today, I’m sharing the altar of my friend Jessica Seba from Mexican at Heart.

Altar for Día de los Muertos by Jessica Seba

What is your connection to Mexico that makes you participate in this tradition?
I love Dia de los Muertos and everything it represents, not to mention papel picado and cempasuchils are my some of my favorite Mexican things! I thought this year it would be good to make my first altar instead of Halloween decorations.

Who does your altar honor?
My altar is dedicated to my grandpa, who passed away earlier this year.

Any special ofrendas or items on your altar?
I put bars of Irish Spring soap on my altar because that scent has always reminded me of my grandpa. I happen to find Walmart selling the soap—which is not a normal shelf item in Mexico—so I grabbed a few boxes. I also put a donkey on there because my grandpa once told the family that if he were to be reincarnated into an animal after he died, he “would be an ass.” He was a real jokester. Other than that, it’s quite hard to find my grandpa’s favorite Polish foods here in Mexico so I didn’t put too much food.

Why do you make an altar for Día de los Muertos? How does it keep your connected to Mexican culture?
I made an altar because I thought it would be interesting to learn the significance behind what everything meant (the water, the colors, the levels, etc.). Mexico has been overtaken by Halloween celebrations in recent years, so I wanted to do something more traditional.

For more photos and a story about Jessica’s altar for Día de los Muertos, click here to visit Mexican at Heart.

Celebrating Día de los Muertos with friends: Muy Bueno Cookbook

Día de los Muertos is this week and as a special treat, I’ve asked some of my friends to send me photos and descriptions of their altars to share here on The Other Side of The Tortilla to show the variety of ways that people celebrate this holiday.

Today, I’m sharing the altar of my friend Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack from Muy Bueno Cookbook.

Día de los Muertos with Muy Bueno Cookbook

Muy Bueno Cookbook's altar for Día de los Muertos 2012. PHOTO/COURTESY OF MUY BUENO COOKBOOK

Where in Mexico are your family’s roots?
Our grandmother was born in Chihuahua, Mexico.

Who does your altar honor?
Our grandmother, Jesusita—the matriarch of our familia who inspired us.

Any special ofrendas or items on your altar?
The belief is that visiting souls may be hungry from their long journey and the food and drink is nourishment for their journey back. This year our altar included pan dulce (sweet bread), Mexican candies and veladoras (religious candles). I knew I needed to buy all these goodies to let grandma know I was thinking of her and to welcome her spirit.

Why do you make an altar for Día de los Muertos? How does it keep your connected to Mexican culture? And do you involve your kids to pass on the tradition?
It’s a perfect way to honor our grandmother. We are thrilled to educate our children about traditions that are part of our culture. We retell memories of our grandmother to our children and reminisce in the times we shared with her.

For more photos and a story about Yvette’s altar for Día de los Muertos and a recipe for marranitos, click here to visit Muy Bueno Cookbook.

Celebrating Día de los Muertos with friends: Nibbles and Feasts

Día de los Muertos is this week and as a special treat, I’ve asked some of my friends to send me photos and descriptions of their altars to share here on The Other Side of The Tortilla to show the variety of ways that people celebrate this holiday.

Today, I’m sharing the altar of my friend Ericka Sanchez from Nibbles and Feasts.

Altar for Día de los Muertos by Ericka Sanchez of Nibbles and Feasts

Altar for Día de los Muertos by Ericka Sanchez of Nibbles and Feasts. PHOTO/COURTESY OF ERICKA SANCHEZ

Where in Mexico are your family’s roots?
Ericka: Torreon, Coahuila, Mexico

A Día de los Muertos altar by Ericka Sanchez

Ericka's altar. PHOTO/COURTESY OF ERICKA SANCHEZ

Who does your altar honor? 
Ericka:
It honors the loved ones our family has lost throughout the years.

Any special ofrendas or items on your altar?
Ericka: Most of the items displayed on the altar are artwork we’ve collected from our trips to Mexico City, Guadalajara, Oaxaca and Torreon. From a paper-mache catrina to clay luchadores, we love bringing home something that we know will have a special place on our altar.

Why do you make an altar for Día de los Muertos? How does it keep your connected to Mexican culture? And do you involve your kids to pass on the tradition?
Ericka: We love the time we spend together building the altar, talking about the friends and family we are honoring, the items on display and what they symbolize culturally. This year is special because it is the first year my son is old enough help arrange the cempazuchitl (marigold) blooms throughout the display.

For more photos and a story about Ericka’s altar for Día de los Muertos, click here to visit Nibbles and Feasts.

Wordless Wednesday: Building my altar for Día de Los Muertos

Día de los Muertos is next week and we’ve begun setting up our altar at home. On Sunday, we started gathering our ofrendas and hung papel picado. It’s nowhere near finished yet, but here’s a sneak peek from a few days ago.

I’ll share more details about the items on the altar as well as who it honors next week.

Celebrating Día de Los Muertos

¡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.

You can visit my Día de Los Muertos post from last year if you’d like to see the altar we made in 2010.

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.

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  • What do you leave as ofrendas on your altar de muertos?

Calaveritas de Mondragon para Día de Los Muertos

I recently visited the National Museum of Mexican Art, located in the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago, on a special mission: I was hoping to buy calaveras de azúcar for my altar de muertos. But not just any calaveras—I was hoping to buy handmade and hand-decorated calaveras from the famous Mondragon family.

Sugar skulls are truly an art form and the Mondragon family from Toluca, Mexico, has been making hand-decorated sugar skulls for around 150 years, spanning five generations. They’ve been coming to the museum to make them in Chicago since 1995 as a way for people to hang on to their culture so far from home and to share Mexican tradition and culture, they told me.

Sugar skulls are often used as a decoration for an altar de muertos or given as gifts for Día de Los Muertos. It’s common to also put the names of family members on the forehead of the sugar skull. Some families only put names of the deceased, while others put names of the living on them as well.

Alejandro Mondragon Arriaga and his wife Elvira Garcia Zinzu travel with one of their daughters to Chicago to make their famous sugar skulls at the museum every year while the rest of the family stays behind in Mexico to make them there. Their family is one of less than a dozen left who are dedicated to this traditional craft, Elvira told me. At one time, she said, there were dozens and dozens of families who made them and sold them all over Mexico…. 

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