If you could spend one more evening with your dearly departed relatives and friends, what would you serve them? What were their favorite foods? What did they like to drink? What kind of music did they listen to? What else could you do to make them feel welcome, to entice them to pause in their roaming across the earth and take an annual rest stop to eat, drink and be merry one more evening with their you? If you celebrate Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), these questions are urgent, since Mexican traditional beliefs dictate that your ancestors’ spirits will visit soon (typically November 1st and 2nd) and you must prepare an altar in your home to receive them.
Having lived in Oaxaca, Mexico for the past seven years, I have been able to participate in the construction of the altars (ofrendas) and found my Oaxacan neighbors most receptive to my questions about the holiday.
I learned that families who sometimes pawn their goods to feed the living members do not hesitate to spend the equivalent of hundreds of dollars on an altar to continue this tradition. Children grow up hearing stories about their ancestors, down to their preferences for food, drink, and cigarette brands. In front of photographs of their ancestors, everyone arranges pan de muerto (bread of the dead), nuts, tamales wrapped in green banana leaves, brightly colored sugar skulls, elaborate dishes with mole sauce, dried fruits and apples, hot chocolate, mezcal alcohol, a bright sea of candles, marigold flower arrangements (marigolds are the flower of the dead, believed capable of attracting the spirits), and smoking goblets of copal (tree resin) incense releasing a citrusy, spiced aroma believed to soothe restless spirits.
Dia de los Muertos: The Sanchez family’s altar, Oaxaca, Mexico, Nov. 1st, 2011 Photo: Selene Brena Sanchez
For those of us who admire the traditions of Dia de los Muertos but find ourselves thousands of miles from Mexico this season, the Twin Cities offers several celebrations:
History Center (St. Paul)
Saturday, Oct. 27: Dia de los Muertos Family Day:
Music and dancing, food demos, puppet shows and games, and make-it take-it crafts. Plus, view altars created by students and commissioned artists. Free with admission.
Oaxaca, Mexico 2011: I was taught to tie marigold blossoms into bouquets and then tie the bouquets onto a palm-frond archway to help make a large altar. Photo: Andres Salinas Sanchez
Midtown Global Market (920 E. Lake Street, Minneapolis)
Sunday, October 28, noon-3 p.m.: Gala Festival — Live music, free food & beverage samples, traditional blessing and Aztec dancing.
Wednesday, October 31, 11 a.m.- 1 p.m.: Wee Wednesday — Kids invited to decorate a skull mask and collect candy.
Thursday, November 1: Food and merchandise specials
Friday, November 2, 5 – 8 p.m.: Free face painting (kids 12 and under), other family-fun activities
Saturday, November 3 — full day of activities!
- Noon – 6 p.m.: Cooking demonstrations at Kitchen in the Market
- Noon: Manny Gonzales and Enrique Garcia in a live mole making competition.
- 3 p.m.: Milissa Silva-Diaz of El Burrito Mercado will give a Pan de Muertos (Bread of the Dead) demonstration
- 1 p.m.: Creating traditional ofrendas (altars) with local artist Tina Tavera.
- 4 – 6 p.m.: Tequila tasting in A La Salsa (21+)
5 p.m.: Live Mariachi music, dancing in Central Plaza
Children with masks for Dîa de los Muertos at Mercado Central (Photo by Becky George)
Mercado Central (1515 East Lake Street, Minneapolis)
November 1, 3 to 5 p.m.: Skull mask painting
Bancroft Neighborhood Association (4120 17th Avenue So., Mpls.) November 1: Traditional ceremony at 6 p.m., followed by a procession to El Colegio (4137 Bloomington Avenue So.)
- El Colegio (4137 Bloomington Avenue So.) – November 1
- Traditional dance, 6:30 p.m.
- Gallery of traditional ofrendas and theatre, “The Woman in Black,” at 7 p.m.
- Live music – the public welcome to bring their instruments – at 8:30 p.m.
Candle lighting at Cafe Ena (Photo ©Alejandra Peña)
Café Ena & The Colorwheel Gallery (46th and Grand Av. S, Mpls) Wednesday Oct 31st-Sunday November 4
4th annual Day of the Dead celebration with a special $30 (not including tax or gratuity), three-course Prix Fixe menu prepared by Chef Ruiz and a traditional ofrenda (altar). Next door at The Colorwheel Gallery check out the Dia de los Muertos exhibit and enjoy the Colorwheel’s selection of folk art, gifts & treasures inspired by Latin America!
The Colorwheel Gallery: Sunday, November 4, 2:00-6:00pm: a fun afternoon of local art, interesting people, delicious appetizers, sweet treats & Mexican folk art themed Art Making.
Altar at Cafe Ena (Photo ©Alejandra Peña)
Neighborhood House (179 Robie St., St. Paul) Saturday, November 3: 10 a.m.- 4:30 p.m. in the gymnasium: Building of Ofrendas: Everyone is invited to build an altar to remember someone special, with volunteers available to assist the inexperienced. To learn more about building an ofrenda, please call 651 353-0687, email: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit: www.DDLMStPaul.com
5 p.m.: Procession: The Procession will begin at La Placita and go through the neighborhood ending at Neighborhood House/ El Rio Vista Recreation Center
6 pm in the gymnasium: Festival Dia de los Muertos & Traditional Aztec Ceremony
Other activities: Sugar Skulls, cut paper decorations, arts and crafts, pan de muerto (bread), hot chocolate, and more!
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