Dia de los Muertos- Day of the Dead

I am so tired of what Halloween has become; zombies, hookers and candy. Let’s face it, this holiday has lost all of it’s original meaning. Take a wander through any Halloween store and you will find the shelves stocked with “sexy whatever” (might as well call them strippers) or disgusting dead looking costumes. It may not be only that but predominantly so.

I was never into looking dead and my days of thinking I can pull off the “sexy something” are long gone too (unless they are going to hand out cash, then I may reconsider, but a fun size Twix just won’t cut it.) . I resorted to “cowgirl” for a few years; it cost me nothing and I wasn’t uncomfortable in a costume, I got dressed for the day and wore my hat and carried my rope. Lazy, maybe but I didn’t care.

The last time I dressed up for Halloween was after the summer it flooded in Bismarck. The whole city spent the spring and most of the summer sandbagging, once the waters began to recede it was clean-up time. That year I cut holes in a sandbag and wore it with blue tights and mud boots; I was a sandbag. I thought it was clever and it fit in well at the first party we went to. They were in agreement that homemade costumes were the way to go and unknowingly we had a flood theme that year. The second party, nobody got it. Maybe if I would have cut the bag to be a sexy sandbag it would be understood. I’m not sure how sexy a sandbag can really get though. After that I was done with Halloween. It got to be too much work just to go out and party and now it’s just too much work. We still carve pumpkins, that’s just fun.

Growing up we went trick-or-treating a few years, living in the country it’s a little harder to do than I imagine living in town would be. The neighbors are a little farther away in the country. After that we started the tradition of going for pizza and getting to pick out candy from the store instead. I think that was a better deal.

Dia de los Muerto

Any more I would rather celebrate Dia de los Muertos – Day of the Dead. It is such an interesting holiday that is actually two days and is much more festive and celebratory than Halloween or the traditional All Saints Day and All Souls Day. I like the idea of celebrating a life that was lived instead of mourning it’s passing.

The holiday as it is today is a combination of the Aztec ritual and Catholic days of remembrance. When the Spanish arrived in South America they liked the festivities but thought them to be of pagan origin, so to make celebrating the deceased in such a lively fashion they moved the Aztec holiday to coincide with the Catholic All Saints Day and All Souls Day, celebrated November 1st and 2nd. I’m glad they did. Catholic celebrations are pretty quiet and low key, even the ones that are to be exciting.

Dia de los Muertos is a two day celebration of the life that past family members lived rather than the mourning of their loss. The first day, Dia de los Inocentes, honors the children that have passed. The second day is Dia de los Muertos, honoring the adults. The days combined are referred to as  Dia de los Muertosthe.

Dia de los Muerto

On these days families put together ofrendas, an alter-like setting. For the children’s day they are decorated with white orchids, babies breath, small sugar skulls and the child’s favorite food, beverage, candy etc.. The adults ofrendas are decorated with orange and yellow marigolds, large sugar skulls and food or beverage.

Families will spend up to two months wages during this holiday. It is celebrated with bright colors, lots of wonderful foods and drinks. Gravestones are cleaned and decorated with flowers, candles and such. Picnics are held in cemeteries, where stories of the deceased are shared and games are played. Foods such as tamales (my favorite) and pan de Muerto are served among much more.

The pan de Muerto or Dead Man’s Bread is a sweet bread that is decorated with dough “bones” of sort. A plastic skeleton is usually baked into the bread and it is said to be good luck for the person to gets it.

Dia de los Muerto

Skeleton’s and skulls are a very predominant decoration during this holiday. They are always made to look happy rather than scary. The sugar skull tradition came to be because the people didn’t have much money to buy the expensive decorations from the church, but they did have sugar. Sugar art was brought to them from Italian missionaries in the 17th century. They began to make decorations of sugar instead. The skulls are made in a smaller size used on the child’s day and a larger size for the adult’s day. The skulls represented a departed soul and often times has the name on the forehead. Though they can be eaten they are not usually consumed. They are vibrantly decorated and depict a smile. Production of these skulls begins 6 months prior to the holiday because of the skill it took to make them by hand and the number of demand.

Dia de los Muerto

This is a holiday most associated with Mexico but is celebrated in other countries as well. When we went to Mexico we arrived on November 3rd. If I were thinking when we booked the trip, I would have tried to arrive on October 31st. The decorations were still up when we were there but we missed the celebration. I would love to be there for that. Aside from the colors and festivities the food is awesome, I would love to sit and watch them do the traditional dances again and did I mention the food. I have found a couple pretty authentic Mexican restaurants up north here. They are very good, I can’t imagine them being able to produce a more authentic product with the ingredients available here. I also don’t usually get into skulls and skeletons but these are different and really quite wonderful works of art.

This year I had hoped to make some decorated skull cookies but never got a cookie cutter. Maybe I can get one on clearance. I would really like to get a sugar skull mold and practice that trade as well. I also planned to make pan de Muerto and tamales. I did get the bread done… kinda. I attempted to change a traditional recipe that called for all-purpose flour and convert it to use whole wheat flour. It looked nice, but had the weight and density of a hockey puck. Apparently I missed the boat on that one. I will try again today and if it works you will see pictures and the recipe. Tamales will hopefully be done on Sunday. I can’t wait!


I know my writing is less than textbook but I did do the research both in Mexico and in text before writing this overview. There is so much more to tell but this will get you started.

All photos are the result of a google.com search and not my own.


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