Kitty Williams and Stevie Mack open their book Day of the Day (Gibbs Smith, September 2011) with this quote from 'The Labyrinth of Solitude' by Octavio Paz.
"To the inhabitant of New York, Paris, or London, death is a word that is never uttered because it burns the lips, the Mexican on the other hand, frequents it, mocks it, caresses it, sleeps with it, entertains it; it is one of his favorite playthings and his most enduring love."
Kitty an Stevie take us on a journey to discover the roots of the Day of the Dead, from street celebrations to offrandas, art and of course favorite dishes.
In their introduction they note that 'because the Day of the Dead is celebrated at roughly the same time of year as Halloween and the two share some common roots, Day of the Dead is sometimes referred to as the 'Mexican Halloween', However, the focus of the two holidays is quite different. With its emphasis on remembering and honoring the dead, Day of the Dead is in some ways more similar to the American observation of Memorial Day."
The authors recognize that there are regional nuances and that the holiday is especially important in Oaxaca and Michoacan.
We learn that most of the festivities take place between October 31 and November 2.
They highlight that 'according to the most common tradition, the souls of departed children (los angelitos, or the little angels) return to earth first, followed by the souls of adults."
An image found all over Mexico during Day of the Dead is 'Catrina' (below). It was created by Jose Posada who the authors write "used this common name as a double entendre: in Spanish, a catrin is a dandy, or fancy man, so catrina is the female equivalent."
The authors mention that "particularly in Oaxaca, intricate sand paintings are often created on the floor in front of the ofrendas."
I am not sure many couples outside Mexico would appreciate the following gift featured in Day of the Dead:
'The bridal couple is also a very popular theme. often presented as a gift to a newlywed couple, the skeletal bride and groom symbolize a love that will endure even after death."
DIY fans will enjoy guides like 'how to make and decorate sugar skulls' like the one below.
Kitty William and Stevie Mack conclude their book with traditional recipes including Pan de Muerto, the spicy chile and chocolate combination known as Mole Sauce and drinks like Cafe de la Olla (a sweet cinnamony coffee) and Atole, a corn based beverage with roots going back to the Aztecs.
(* Quotes and photographs from 'Day of the Dead' by Kitty Williams and Stevie Mack -Gibbs Smith, September 2011- reproduced by permission of the publisher, all rights reserved)