Día de los Muertos: Culturally DOA but a Bake-Worthy Occasion
My nightmares are filled with the drunken faces of American college kids smeared with paint depicting garish skulls, twisted toothy grins, hollow cheekbones, black pools of pain for eyes . . . Death isn't the scary part here, it's the ever increasing popularity of the Day of the Dead and its related imagery in American pop culture -- and its identification with all things Mexican. Spring fills me with dread waiting for the 5th of May to come and go, with its cheap sombreros and fiesta promoting beer commercials. Fall now brings craft store advertisements promoting discounts on Day of the Dead face painting kits. If the reduction of a 3,000-year-old pre-Columbian tradition into a sale promo doesn't fill you with nightmares, you're made of sturdier stuff than me.
Minerva Orduno Rincon Pan de Muerto
Let's get back to basics and learn more about the Día de los Muertos, and Pan de Muertos, a simple baked offering for the departed.
To clarify, the actual day of Day of the Dead is not October 31, but rather November 2, known in the Catholic world as All Souls Day; this is hardly a coincidence. Mesoamerican cultures had a longstanding tradition of festivities honoring dead family members -- celebrating their lives, not their deaths. The kin were remembered by the presence of their preserved skulls, and it just so neatly happened that the terminus of these celebrations (which were more than a month long and seemingly garish but actually rather cheerful) nearly coincided with All Souls Day.
Just as pagan celebrations in Rome were converted to Christian ones, so were Mesoamerican celebrations Catholicized in the Catholic colonization and conversion of the region.
This being said, like all things in Mexico, the Day of the Dead celebrations are very regional. Southern states, those areas occupied by Mayan, Aztec, Toltec, etc., cultures, still continue the tradition, those preserved skulls now replaced with decorated sugar skulls, of course. Northern Mexican states are really not as interested in these celebrations.
With the brief history lesson over, it's time to bake an offering for the departed, and to enjoy in their memory.