Yes, they may share a calendar date, but no, Day of the Dead is not the rough equivalent of Hallowee’n, but rather, of Yankee Thanksgiving – it’s all about family and food. Halloween, the second most commercial holiday up north, is macabre, dark, excessively indulgent. Day of the Dead recognizes that survival has been based upon sacrifices made by ancestors, which is to say that it is centered on gratitude, giving of thanks. ¿What better way to express thanks than to infuse food with love for sharing with those so dear to us?
We had a close-up look at this celebration in a pueblo southeast of Merida on Saturday. Our housekeeper, Mundy, invited us to her parent’s home to partake of this harvest remembrance. It doesn’t get any more grounded and real than this. Her father, Desiderio, is a milpero, a real hardscrabble farmer, who grows corn, beans, squash, sweet potato, melons, and such, for the family. They raise their own meat and poultry. And they also have a little manufacturing business, making clothing and thus providing employment for their neighbors. It was a great honor to be invited to this feast. And it was so delicious, being entirely prepared from scratch in their outdoor kitchen. (So basic: food, clothing, shelter, family, love.)
Like many such feasts, this one takes much advance preparation. But many hands make light work. The menu includes handmade tortillas, from their own corn; black beans blended with hardboiled eggs from the chicken pen; turkey; chicken; vegetable topping, called cortado (chop, in English); and Coke (along with a chocolate cake brought by us – the only items not made from scratch).
This is a long-running feast, which lasts for several days. The next event will be baking the meat pies for tomorrow’s event. (These folks know how to celebrate!)
And now we are well-schooled on being grateful for our ancestors!
It reminds me a bit of a rock tune, which almost sounds like a hymn today.