Day of The Dead
Día de Muertos
Día de Muertos, Day of the Dead
Tiene hambre la huesuda
y por tacos sale a buscar.
Le dicen que “La Tortilleria” sin duda
Puede, fácilmente, su hambre saciar.
“¿Dónde están los dueños del lugar?”
Pregunta a los comensales,
Pero todos decidieron callar
Mientras le servían unos tamales.
La Catrina cambió de opinión y partió
“Díganle a Diana y Gerardo que la muerte hoy no se los llevó.
En esta ocasión sin robo me voy
Pero en cambio, muy satisfecha estoy”.
The boney one is hungry
and for tacos goes out on a quest.
They tell her “La Tortilleria” without a doubt
Can easily, her hunger quench.
“Where are the owners of this place?”
Asked around to the diners,
But everyone decided to silence their face
While they serve her a plate of tamales.
The Catrina changed her mind and left,
“Tell Diana and Gerardo death did not take them today.
On this occasion I’m leaving without theft,
But super satisfied instead”.
This is what we refer to as “Calavera literaria” or “Calaverita” (that’s right, literally ‘little skull’) which is how most people call it affectionately. It translates to “Literary Calavera”, and it is a form of poetry. Although perhaps this may not be one of the best ones you’ve come across, I highly suggest you check them out online as there are tons written in such cunning and entertaining fashion! The purpose is there, which is basically to poke and tease both the living and deceased. Oh! And everyone in between, like, I don’t know… La Catrina.
Formerly known as panteones, whose origin date to the late 19th century, the (nowadays) calaveras started off as mocking epitaphs and an alternative expression of political satire, often censored due to its craftiness. Nevertheless, the practice stuck, and later people adopted them as a means to express a range of emotions and ideas that otherwise would’ve been difficult to say, while perhaps, doubling as a healing balm too.
Being born and raised in Mexico, I can still remember myself as a little girl, whose homework was to write one of these. The assignment was quite clear: anyone and anything was the target! To this day, I honestly cannot think of a better way to exercise creativity, humour, and a profound reverence to life.
And while it may be perceived as gloomy or a rather morbidly sarcastic practice for some, truth is us Mexicans have an interesting approach to death to say the least… and it is widely known! This Partly due to the United Nations Educational, Science and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) declaring this festivity as Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2008; not to mention international media’s depiction in various ways, but largely because we are so confident in that people all around the world can smell our freshly baked “pan de muerto” as well as our “cempasúchil” flowers on all altars at a distance (wink wink).
As do all our loved ones who have experienced this significant rite of passage it seems. To which such artistic, sentimental and, dare I say, mystic altars are intended and held for: paving a transitory route back to the roots. Starting November, the veil separating both worlds becomes thinner and our connection to them grows stronger. An invisible world supporting the visible world and vice versa.
Every year, many families and believers gather around to decorate their homes and towns with candles and fragrant cempasúchil flowers, as well as crafts involving a specific type of paper called “papel picado” with images like skulls or skeletons; some incense, and of course the deceased’s favourite food including homemade dishes, snacks, and fruits.
The cult to death finds its first practices in pre-Hispanic times, when a ceremony was performed to guide the recently deceased to the underworld or Mictlán, according to Aztec mythology. Not only people cooked the dead’s favourite food in these ceremonies (as it was believed they would get hungry on their way there), but bodies were wrapped in a petate, a woven bedroll made from palm fibres, and then buried in a celebratory manner.
In this indigenous perspective, the Day of the Dead implies a transitory time in which a beloved’s soul returns “home” to the living world and can be nourished by the essence of the food offered in the altar. This vision understood that life transcends physicality, and that death can actually be a symbol of living presence, one that materializes on the offered altar and in the visiting of a place where a lot was shared amongst friends and family.
Such unique event would not have come to be if it weren’t for the harmonious merging of Catholic religious rituals and tradition, giving birth to one of our culture’s most enigmatic and often praised holidays.
Ancient Mexicas, Mixtecs, Texcocans, Zapotecs, Tlaxcalans, Totonacs and other ethnicities transferred their veneration of the dead to the Christian Calendar, which happen to coincide with the end of agricultural cycle of corn, the main food crop of the country to this day. Therefore, this celebration takes place in 2 main dates: November 1st, which according to Catholic calendar it answers to “All saints” day and is dedicated to the death of children; and November 2nd, the day that corresponds to the “Faithful departed”, that is, adults.
Best places to visit in Mexico at this time of the year
Although every state follows this tradition authentically, each one has their very own particular touch and original ways in which to further celebrate this special festivity. However, and without a doubt, Oaxaca, Michoacán, among Mexico City’s municipalities are the most traditional and attached to their origins, making them both beautiful and most potent places to see. Definitely an experience that will give you chills in the most incredible way. If you happen to have the chance to visit Mexico, try not to miss it!
Here at La Tortilleria we celebrate and enhance the memory of our loved ones by eating all their favourite and authentic tacos. Not too bad, huh? Come stop by, we promise our menu is to die for…
Image credit 📸 @___valeriaa – The cycle of life & death