Many conflate Halloween with the Mexican tradition of Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). While the latter may sound like a similarly ominous occasion, it is anything but frightening. Día de los Muertos, an annual festival from Oct. 31 to Nov. 2, is truly a time to celebrate the lives of those who have passed, yet left an indelible mark on our own lives.
Día de los Muertos originated thousands of years ago with the Aztec, Maya, Toltec and other Nahua peoples. In these cultures, death was deemed a natural phase in the continuum of life, so it was believed that departed souls returned during Día de los Muertos. That is why a true work of art called an ofrenda (translated as “offering”) — decorated with photos and possessions of the deceased — is lovingly constructed to guide and welcome spirits back to the realm of the living.
There are generally three tiers to an ofrenda, from top down representing heaven, earth and the Aztec underworld of the dead. There is also a representation of the four elements: water (a pitcher); wind (papel picado); earth (food); and fire (candles).
This Día de los Muertos, MEDA staff created a large, celebratory ofrenda in the first-floor of the newly reimagined Plaza Adelante at 2301 Mission St. @ 19th in the Mission.
Development Officer Kim Izar was one of a score of MEDA staff taking part in Día de los Muertos festivities this year. This fall marks a decade since the passing of her beloved grandmother, Prudencia “Nanay” De Guzman (photo, top right). Explains Kim, “Hanging a picture among the photos of so many loved ones gives me a space and community to mourn with, celebrate with and honor Nanay’s life. Even if just for a few days, the altar is a physical reminder of her grace and compassion.”
Another staple of Día de los Muertos is pan de muerto (bread of the dead), with its soft consistency similar to a bun. This sweet bread is a decadent treat, sometimes with anise seeds added to create a special flavor. You will see the addition of dough shaped into skulls, bones and teardrops. Pan de muerto is often eaten along with the deceased loved one’s favorite meal.
La Victoria, the long-popular Mission bakery, will be selling their tasty pan de muerto at Plaza Adelante from Nov. 1-3 at the following times:
- Thursday, 2 p.m.-8 p.m.
- Friday, 8 a.m.-8 p.m.
- Saturday, 8 a.m.-12 p.m.
So come by MEDA’s Plaza Adelante and join in the Día de los Muertos festivities, and take a moment today to remember those who touched your life … and whose memories live on.