All Saints’ Day has been special in our family for a long time. Our babies were baptized on the Sunday following All Saints’ Day four and seven years ago, which always brings to mind the community of saints that went before us, especially Neil’s beloved daddy, who died the year that Rowan was born and baptized. The music we sing on that day is some of my favorite church music – “for all are one in Thee, for all are Thine…” gives me chills every time.
Now that we live in Texas, we’re closer to some of the other cultural traditions surrounding All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day. I first learned about Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, in high school and college Spanish classes, and I’ve always been drawn in by the marigolds and parades and calaveras. This year, we started our own little altar to honor our deceased friends and relatives, and we even found a little skeleton priest to add to our decorations.
The idea behind Día de los Muertos is to celebrate those who have gone before us, and to remember them. Family members cook food and bring favorite beverages and objects to the graves of their loved ones, and they throw a party to honor them. There are beautiful parades with marigolds and people dressed as skeletons, and there is a celebration of life on earth and the life to come. This cultural tradition embraces death, not in a “don’t worry, be happy” kind of way, but in more of a “be sad, and that’s ok, and also celebrate the life that was” kind of way.
I wanted to share this tradition (and food, of course!) with the high school Sunday School class at Palmer, and so my co-teacher and friend Kelly and I invited the high schoolers to my house for an afternoon of baking, eating, crafts, and movie-watching. It was the easiest party I’ve ever thrown, and so much fun. We had a good turnout despite torrential rains, and hopefully we can make it a regular thing. We watched The Book of Life, which is a children’s movie about Día de los Muertos and “the land of the remembered.” One of my favorite things about the movie is the music – popular music reimagined in a Latin twist.
I baked pan de muerto (or “bread of the dead”), which is a traditional bread that is supposed to look like bones crossed across the top of the bread. I used a New York Times recipe, which calls for lard. I figure if I’ve made it this long on this planet without buying lard, there’s no reason to start now. I substituted vegetable shortening first, but also probably baked it too long, and it was too dry. The next time, I used canola oil, and it came out just right. I added some orange zest, which made it aromatic and delicious.
We also had chips, guacamole, queso, pumpkin cupcakes (or “muffins” before they were frosted), and lemonade. Kelly brought her amazing crafts, and watching her work makes me realize, again, that she’s some kind of creative genius. I failed cutting and can just barely color in a coloring book, so I’m completely impressed.
I’m already looking forward to another celebration like this next year, and I’m scheming about what else I can bake and cook for hungry teenagers, because having a house full of kids, eating and laughing, is just about the best thing ever.