El Dia de los Muertos

El Dia de los Muertos Altar

The Day of the Dead is one of my favorite holidays.  It isn’t a sad time.  It’s a time that warms us in the glow of loved ones remembering loved ones.

When I look at my ofrenda on the fireplace mantel, I have no sorrow.  My heart swells with pleasure that I have discovered an old photo of my mother, father and three older sisters.  They are captured in a black and white photo before the rest of us were born: a complete unit just as they are.  The photo of my husband’s parents freezes them in time: watching their grandchildren play ball game on a summer day.  My nieces have their grandparents.  The twins are together.  Smiles light the cherished faces.   On my altar, life after death is strewn with marigolds, candy, candles and a bit of red wine thrown in.  La Calaca* is dressed in many guises and is providing music as a skeletal mariachi band.

We prepare for their feast.  Warm memories carry me through the “heirloom” section of my recipes.  Can I really make Grandma’s bread with an malfunctioning wrist?  Probably not.  But I can make hummus for my sister who lived in the Middle East.  And in my family, beets will make a lot of spirits happy.  And off we go…

This year is special because my sister has come to cook with me.  (Well, maybe, considering my disability, she has come to cook FOR me.)  The sweetness of being with her for this day will flavor this holiday forever. It was a homey comfort to stand near each other in joint projects and to have the luxury to remember questions we wanted to ask.  We took time to drop our work and hunt through an album for a picture to prove a memory.

A butterscotch pie for Mom
A butterscotch pie for Mom

There was joy in the kitchen when our hands were dyed red from cutting beets.  There was laughter at my lame attempt at Mom’s cornbread recipe – where did I go wrong?  We cooked beans, grated salad and intermittently forgot that company was coming.   So while my sister was throwing everything from my counters into a paper bag, and I was washing my hair over the bathtub (too late for a shower); my husband rescued us by preparing his adaptation of his Mom’s Mac and Cheese.

Our friends and family arrived with their own memories: photographs for the altar, food for the table; and drinks to sustain us in our festivities.   We all joined in celebration.  We talked, we laughed, we ate, we drank; and the spirits were there with us.

I think they’re happy when we’re happy.



November 2, 2009


  1. What beautiful words that took me into some El Dia de los Muertos traditions through your eyes. I am from the Northeast part of the U.S. and it wasn’t until I moved to New Mexico and then Texas where this holiday was more celebrated. It’s better than Halloween! The skeletons aren’t scary, they’re family!
    Anyway thanks for posting, next year I just might try to make my mom’s famous Swedish meatballs…


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