Memories -by Mario Rodriguez-Garcia
Our Grandmother (right), our grandfather on the left, and a Soldadera
One of the beauties of the Mexican and Latin American cultural celebrations that has always been close to my heart is Dia de Los Muertos.
El Día de Los Muertos or the Day of the Dead is a celebration of life and death practiced mainly in Mexico, Latin American countries, in the United States, and any place around the world where this tradition has been introduced.
I can remember in my early years, at six or seven years old, climbing up the steep cemented steps outside to the patio of my grandmother’s home. Finally, after reaching the top and looking into the kitchen's flowered stained glass windows all I would see was the darkness lit up by countless candles. It was always an amazing and surreal experience as I entered the kitchen and was bombarded with the aromas of melting wax, cempazuchitl flowers, and the smell of fresh mangos placed on my grandmother’s thick wooden table. I remember seeing plates full of salt, sugar, filled tequila shots, and hundreds of orange and yellow cempazuchitl petals, also known as marigolds, spread across the table.
Decorating for Day of the Dead is one of the most beautiful traditions and flowers are often a big part of these decorations. On Dia de Los Muertos, marigolds are often left as an offering from family members and included in their altars and at the graves of their loved ones. Sometimes marigolds are used to make trails to guide the dead to the memorial altar.
An example of Cempazuchitl flowers
Since these flowers are said to represent the fragility of life, it’s only natural that they are used to honor those that have passed on to the next chapter of their lives.
Cempazuchitl flowers, or marigolds, have a very distinct smell, and when paired with the right kind of candle, believers say that the souls of the departed return for a brief time to enjoy the pleasures of life once more.
Having the flowers contrasted against my grandmother’s dark-stained wooden table along with the pictures of my grandmother’s relatives, was always intriguing to me. I can remember asking my grandmother who the people in the photos were and how she knew them. But, unfortunately, I was too young to hold onto those people’s faces and memories. All I remember were black and white pictures of people not smiling and I always found that odd.
This is the Soldadera Dia de Los Muertos table offering
Speaking of the altar, for Día de Los Muertos, living relatives of the deceased typically build an altar in their homes where they present the spirits of their loved ones with gifts, such as fresh fruits, for example. Furthermore, Day of the Dead celebrators often enjoy snacking on delicious sugar skulls and Pan de Muerto with coffee – yum!
One of the few places in West Michigan to find authentic bread of the dead, Pan de Muerto, is at this authentic Mexican bakery called Colin’s bakery located in Holland, MI.
Our Canelita Mexican Style Cold Brew flavor is the same blend of coffee and cinnamon taste that I remember smelling and drinking as a child. The coffee always had a slightly sweetened taste. It was perfection! I know that I was not allowed to drink a lot of coffee at that age, but I just loved it. Back in the 90's in Mexico, drinking coffee as a child was more accepted and this probably led to my boosts of energy and talkativeness. I remember also eating my grandmother’s tamales which tasted just like Tamales Mary’s green sauce tamales. Flavorful mild spicy tamales with a delicious green sauce was often paired with coffee. Although my grandmother's tamales were not healthiest because they were full of lard unlike Tamales Mary’s non-lard delicious recipes.
I always found the Day of the Dead very fascinating because there was never a sad moment. Hearing people share their memories of their loved ones, seeing their pictures, and hearing their stories always boosted my mood.
But I think the main reason that I loved the Day of the Dead was because I would get to see my grandmother smile more than she usually did while sharing her stories and happy memories of her past.