In the days of the Aztecs, Día de Los Muertos was a festival celebrated the entire ninth month of the Aztec calendar, but when the Spaniards arrived in the New World and attempted to convert the indigenous people to Catholicism, the holiday was moved to a single day to coincide with the Catholic All Souls’ Day on November 2.
The Spaniards disliked the indigenous traditions and may have labeled them as barbaric and pagan, but Día de Los Muertos is not as scary – or sad – of a holiday as some think. This holiday actually has very sentimental roots. It’s all about celebrating life and honoring the dead.
In some places in Mexico there are parades, people decorate the gravesites of their deceased loved ones and construct altars in their homes with offerings, called ofrendas, for the souls of the dearly departed. Altars often include items like photographs of the deceased, items they may have owned, foods and beverages they may have liked, flowers and even sometimes a pillow and blankets for the souls to rest after their long journey.
Día de Los Muertos is one of the most beautiful and unique holidays in Mexican culture because everyone, young and old, shows their love and respect for the family members and friends that have passed away over the years. Celebrating their lives is also a reminder to the living to cherish their time on earth.
One of my favorite things to do in Mexico City is go to the tianguis, or open-air market. Part of the reason I love them so much is because they’re a vibrant reminder of what it means to truly be alive. I love everything about it: the arts and crafts for sale; the tinkling strains of melodies being played by street musicians; the food stalls with everything from jamoncillo (milk fudge) and dulce de calabaza cristalizada (dried candied pumpkin) to tacos de canasta (tacos in a basket).
On my first visit to the Bazar Sábado in Mexico City’s San Angel neighborhood several years ago I was delighted by all the makeshift stalls selling artisan crafts and every kind of sugary homemade treat I could imagine. Many of the stall owners off the Plaza Jacinto were offering generous samples to entice potential customers to buy a medio-kilo of this or a medio-kilo of that. One of the things that caught my eye at several of the stalls, though, was a hanging treat bag with brightly colored half-moon wafers that had pepitas sticking out of them and some kind of sticky miel holding them together. I was entranced….