Monday, October 26

Mexican Altar of the Dead: 10 Foods You Shouldn’t Miss | The NY Journal

Sugar skull as an offering to the dead.

Photo: JMndz / Creative Commons

Celebrate the Dead in Mexico it is a tradition since 3,000 years. The Aztecs, Purépecha Maya, Zapotec, Nahua, Totonac, and other peoples practiced rituals to honor their ancestors. This tradition managed to be preserved and today it is a syncretic holiday between prehispanic culture and the catholic religion.

The party of Day of the Dead takes place between the end of October and the first days of November (November 1 and 2). In the indigenous worldview it implies the transitory return of the souls of the dead, to the world of the living, to live with your family.

The offering or the altar is a very important part of this celebration. It is believed that the spirit of the deceased enjoy the essence of the dishes that his family offers him and that in life they were his favorites. A wide variety of foods are offered, including:

1. Pan de muerto

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The bread of pre-Hispanic times was made from amaranth and other corn. The “papalotlaxcalli”Or butterfly bread was exclusive to the ceremony for the dead. The tortilla-shaped dough was imprinted with a butterfly-shaped stamp and colorfully painted, explains the National Institute of Indigenous Peoples.

Currently there are different varieties of bread of the dead. There are different figures (human, animal or domes), ingredients and colors.


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Although tamales are part of ordinary food, they constitute one of the omost important brakes. The tamale is an element of sharing, gratitude and reciprocity between the living and the dead.

The tamale is “the food that strengthens its essence and presence before the men of the town”, publishes the magazine Anthropology of food in the text The tamales: offering and symbolism among the Nahuas of the Huasteca of Veracruz.

3. Sugar skulls

Photo: Miguel Espinosa Varela / Creative Commons

The sugar skulls represent a reminder of the conclusion of a life stage on earth. There are also chocolate and amaranth skulls. Sometimes they have the name of the deceased to whom it is offered or that of living people to whom it is given, it is not seen as a bad wish, although it is an inevitable destiny.

4. Pumpkin in tacha

Photo: Aggi Garduño / Reform Agency.

Castilla pumpkin is used to prepare a traditional sweet dish for the offering to the faithful departed. The pumpkin in tacha is prepared with the pumpkin, brown sugar and cinnamon.

5. Amaranth and pumpkin seed sweets

Photo: Koffer Mejia / Creative Commons

In pre-Hispanic times, the amaranth was also related to religious festivals and indigenous rites. The tzoalli, a mixture of amaranth and honey, was present especially in the ceremonies dedicated to Huitzilopochtli in the toxic month.

6. Water and salt

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The water is for the dead quench your thirst after your long journey from the world of the dead and to strengthen their return. In some cultures symbolizes the purity of the soul.

The element of purification, serves so that the body is not corrupted, in its round trip for the following year.

7. Tequila, pulque or brandy

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The “drink” is according to the tastes that the deceased had so that he remembers the great pleasant events during his life.

8. Mole

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Mole is one of the favorite dishes to offer at the altar to the dead. It can be mole with chicken, hen or turkey.

9. Fruits and vegetables

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Either in the branches that form the arch of the altar or on the table, mandarins, oranges, sugar cane, corn, among other fruits, grains, seeds and vegetables are placed, depending on the region.

10. Chocolate and black coffee

Photo: Rafael Gutierrez on Pixabay

Chocolate and coffee are two common drinks on the altar. In pre-Hispanic times, the cocoa was a symbol of abundance that was used at the time of religious rituals dedicated to the divinities. It used to be drunk fermented and with different spices, one of them vanilla.

In addition to food, on the altar there are other important elements such as marigold flowers to guide its path, incense, confetti and candles.

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