Thursday, October 2, 2008

Dia de los Muertos Preparations

Well, preparations for Dia de los Muertos has officially started, I think. Many of this month's features will focus on projects for children and products that celebrate the holiday. And as a quick review for many who are not familiar with the holiday, or have forgotten some of the elements, here is a brief description of the day.

A blending of ancient Aztec and Spanish Catholic beliefs, Dia de los Muertos is a holiday that is celebrated on November 1st and 2nd in conjunction with All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day. It is basically a time during which we remember our family members and other loved ones who have passed away.

Despite its Mexican roots, the holiday is now celebrated throughout the world in various forms, but most especially in Spanish-speaking countries. Individuals celebrate the day in a variety of ways. Some visit the cemetery to clean and decorate graves. The decorations may consist of flowers – especially orange marigolds – and other "ofrendas" (offerings) such as toys, drinks, candies and trinkets.

These ofrendas are laid out in homes as well, where small altars are often erected for the occasion. The altars are not to worship, but rather a tribute or way to remember and honor the deceased’s memory. They are generally decorated with items such as the loved one’s photograph, candles, favorite foods and drinks, memorabilia, a Christian cross, images of la Virgen, etc. Skeletons placed upon the altar are intended to be silly and humorous, not scary or lacking in respect. In fact, it is believed that the dead consider it disrespectful to be greeted at the altar by a grieving friend/family.

Special dishes made up during the holiday include the now hugely popular sugar skulls as a way to honor the deads’ sweet spirit, and candied pumpkin, or "pan de muerto." The following recipe is from (an excellent recipe resource for mamis.)

Pan de Muerto
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup water
5 to 5-1/2 cups flour
2 packages dry yeast
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon whole anise seed
1/2 cup sugar
4 eggs

In a saucepan over medium flame, heat the butter, milk and water until very warm but not boiling. Meanwhile, measure out 1-1/2 cups flour and set the rest aside. In a large mixing bowl, combine the 1-1/2 cups flour, yeast, salt, anise seed and sugar. Beat in the warm liquid until well combined. Add the eggs and beat in another 1 cup of flour. Continue adding more flour until dough is soft but not sticky. Knead on lightly floured board for ten minutes until smooth and elastic.
Lightly grease a bowl and place dough in it, cover with plastic wrap and let rise in warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1-1/2 hours. Punch the dough down and shape into loaves resembling skulls, skeletons or round loaves with "bones" placed ornamentally around the top. Let these loaves rise for 1 hour.
Bake in a preheated 350 F degree oven for 40 minutes. Remove from oven and paint on glaze.

1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup fresh orange juice
2 tablespoons grated orange zest

Bring to a boil for 2 minutes, then apply to bread with a pastry brush.
If desired, sprinkle on colored sugar while glaze is still damp.

Of course, handmade decorations are traditional to Dia de los Muertos. And there are hundreds of projects out there for families to make. The Crafty Chica herself, Kathy Cane Murillo gives us a great several great projects at AZCentral, such as reverse glass painting, paper flower assembly, a Dia de los Muertos pin, and even a recipe for making sugar skulls. Check it out here.

The Latin Baby Book Club’s Book of the Month/Libro del Mes choice is perfect for parents who are looking for a way to introduce the holiday to their chiquiticos and includes a few links to activities for their children. You can check out the book review here. And while you’re at it, don’t forget to sign up for the club’s first giveaway. The deadline is this Saturday!

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