Day of The Dead ~ Dia de los Muertos ~ Samhain
~ All Soul's Day ~ Halloween ~
The Day of the Dead is such a mystical, magical, and ancient holiday celebrated in central and southern Mexico during the chilly days of November 1 and 2. It makes such sense too. We need more holiday celebrations. Tradtionally many cultures have one at least every 6 weeks. For The Day of the Dead, many believe that the gates of heaven are opened at midnight on October 31, and the spirits of each family revisit and celebrations ensue through November 2. In most villages in central and south Mexico, beautiful altars are made in each home. They're decorated with candles, buckets of flowers, mounds of fruit, peanuts, plates of turkey mole, stacks of tortillas and big Day-of-the-Dead breads called pan de muerto. The altar needs to have lots of food, bottles of juice, hot cocoa, and water for the weary spirits. Toys and candies are left for the children and tobacco and shots of mezcal tequila are offered to the adult spirits.
The Day of the Dead can be a very expensive holiday for the many self-sufficient, rural based, original intact people of this part of the world. Many spend over two month's income to honor their dead relatives. It's believed that to honor spirit and to honor the spirits of our ancestors, one must be lavish, provide a respite, and create beauty. We want the same in return for they care for us too in unseen ways, right? Happy spirits will provide protection, good luck and wisdom to the family. Altar building keeps a family close and is a sacred act of creating the doorway for this beautiful sharing. It is the time of the Watery West on the Medicine Wheel as a compass and the “veil is naturally thin” at this time between the worlds.
On the afternoon of Nov. 2, the festivities are often taken to the cemetery. People clean tombs, play cards, listen to the village band, and share stories about their loved ones. Tradition and ceremony keeps a village close. Day of the Dead is becoming very popular in the U.S.~ perhaps because we don't have a way to celebrate and honor our dead, or maybe it's because of our fascination with its mysticism. Deepen connection is the what draws many.
Day of the Dead is also celebrated throughout Mexico and the Catholic world in Italy, Spain, South America and the Philippines but under a different name where all celebrate “All Souls and All Saints Day” on November 1st and 2nd. Special Masses and perhaps cleaning and decorating of the cemetery tombs are part of the traditional activities. It's only in Central and Southern Mexico where the colorful parties take place in the cemeteries and elaborate altars are built in the homes to honor specific family members who have passed on. But you can change that in your home.
Sunset on Samhain is the beginning of the Celtic New Year. The old year has passed, the harvest has been gathered, cattle and sheep have been brought in from the fields, and the leaves have fallen from the trees. The earth slowly begins to die around us. This is a good time for us to look at wrapping up the old and preparing for the new in our lives. Think about the things you did in the last twelve months. Have you left anything unresolved? If so, now is the time to wrap things up. Once you’ve gotten all that unfinished stuff cleared away, and out of your life, then you can begin looking towards the next year.
In our home we celebrate Samhain in the Celtic tradition, Holloween too, and the Day of the Dead in the Central American tradition by spreading the festivities out over three consecutive days. The very day we began building our family altar, calls came in from two family members not spoken to for many years and hours of sharing about childhood goodness and sorrows surfaced. Healing happens this way. That's the magic in action and we haven't even put the finishing touches together on anything quite yet. We are making fresh picked apples into apple sauce with sour cream for one grandmother who ate this everyday, Chaga Hot Chocolate for another beloved elder, and Day of the Dead Bread for all with plates of fruit and flowers and candles.
Here's Our Day Of The Dead Bread Recipe we love!!
Day Of The Dead Bread Recipe
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons anise seed
1/4 cup sugar
2 eggs, beaten
2 teaspoons orange zest
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup orange juice
1 tablespoon orange zest
2 tablespoons sugar
1. Heat the milk and the butter together in a medium saucepan, until the butter melts. Remove from the heat and add the warm water. The mixture should be around 110 degrees F (43 degrees C).
2. In a large bowl combine 1 cup of the flour, yeast, salt, anise seed and 1/4 cup of the sugar. Beat in the warm milk mixture; then add the eggs and orange zest; beat until well combined. Stir in 1/2 cup of flour and continue adding more flour until the dough is soft and manageable.
3. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic - about 5-10 minutes.
4. Place the dough into a lightly greased bowl cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size. This will take about 1 to 2 hours.
5. Punch the dough down and shape it into a large round loaf after keeping about 1/4 of separate for decorating the loaf. Make two long bones and lay across the loaf with a round piece either in the center or off-set as the skull.
6. Place dough onto a baking sheet, loosely cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place for about 1 hour or until just about doubled in size.
7. Bake in a preheated 425 degrees F for 10-12 minutes; then lower heat to 325 degrees for 15-20 minues; watch for browning. Remove from oven let cool slightly then brush with glaze.
8. To make glaze: In a small saucepan combine the 1/4 cup sugar, orange juice and orange zest. Bring to a boil over medium heat and boil for 2 minutes. Brush over top of bread while still warm. Sprinkle glazed bread with sugar (optional).
Yes, you can substitute other sweeteners if sugar is out of your diet. Wheat and bread making is missed but I'm so indulging with my ancestors this weekend!
Chaga Hot Chocolate
1 Tbsp ground chaga per quart of water
Optional Additions: Maple Syrup, Honey, Cream, Cocnut Milk
-Slow simmer chaga in the water covered for 1-2 hours
-Strain through a fine seive and enjoy. The tea is delicious on its own with natural vanilla compounds already in it so try some by itself first. Depending on your source, the outer black layer is more bitter but a welcomed tonic this ime of year.
Chaga Hot Chocolate
1 cup Chaga tea recipe above
1 cup Coconut Milk - we like the full fat kind (or 1/2 cup Cream)
1-2 Tbsp cacao powder (or 1-2oz. dark chocolate works great too)
1-2 Tbsp Maple Syrup - yes, from the tree
Whisk or you can use a blender.
-Return your warm tea to a pot and add all other ingredients and whisk on the lowest heat gently until frothy and mixed well but do NOT boil. Play with the amounts to suit your taste. I've also been known to add a sprinkle of cinnamon or cayenne depending on my mood. Find the perfect mug and ENJOY!
Deeply bowing to you and your ancestors... XO-Jen