This November marks my 8th year of living in the Mission neighborhood of San Francisco. We must have the festival gods on our side because our home is literally at the starting point of two major celebrations a year, Carnival in May over Memorial Day weekend and Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead procession that takes place every 1st weekend of November. A Mexican tradition, known now throughout the world, every year on the 1st and 2nd of November cemeteries are filled with flowers, visitors, family members and traditional altars. Pan de Muerto and sugar skulls are in window displays, private altars in homes and on the graves of those who have passed away. Meant to honor and remember the departed, I’ve found it to be a touching and moving tradition and as such invite friends to our home to raise a glass of agave tequila, bring photos and remembrances of loved ones. This year we will have a memory board where reflections and sentiments can be shared.
Another interesting tradition in Mexico surround Dia de los Muertos is “calaveritas” or literary skulls. I learned this recently from my Spanish class teacher Carlos Bazan. It is custom in Mexico to write verses with funny rhymes, expressing aspects of personality, character flaws of a person be they a friend, teacher, relative, politician, all are fair game and all is expressed in a lighthearted, satirical way. These were published in Mexican newspapers in the 1840s, and likely have become what are our political cartoons today. Widely used in current times, school children in Mexico learn to write these verses to help develop their sense of irony and wit.
I hope wherever you are, you can take this special day to commemorate someone you love and remember. Create a small altar by setting out pictures, put out their favorite things be it candy, keepsakes, photos, a glass of wine whatever is personal to you and them. Include the customary flowers of Day of the Dead, marigolds and light a candle. Celebrate life by commemorating our mortality.
Each year, I create an authentic dish for my guests, last year it was the traditional mole, this year, I’ll create a red pozole or pork stew to fortify our guests before the procession. As always, I love to share my recipes so you can make this at home as well. I also will have friends bringing along Mezcal to be enjoyed with a special salt from Oaxaca made with worms, I kid you not. Called Sal de Gusano, these worms live in the agave plant and are an ancient delicacy. Blended with Oaxacan sea salt and chiles, it is quite often found in drinks and dishes as a condiment or accent.
Salud! To life!
By Kimberly Charles
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