Day of the Dead in Mexico: the origin, meaning and recipe...

The All Souls Day, also known as Day of the Dead, is a Christian celebration -it is part of the Catholic Church’s saints- that takes place every November 2 for commemorate deceased loved ones.

While it is a universal custom for believers, has a particular weight in Mexico, where the day was declared Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity for its relevance and its history has roots prior to the Spanish conquest and evangelization. Also, unlike other countries where this day is lived as part of a duel, for Mexicans it is synonymous with joyas they remember their deceased with a festive atmosphere, which includes parades, music, flowers and also traditional foods, including those that the deceased person liked.

Although on the family table this day there are various dishes of traditional Mexican cuisine, what cannot be missing is the ancestral “bread of the dead”, Which is usually cooked or bought made a few days before, since many begin to decorate the commemorative altars on October 28. But,what is the origin and meaning of the bread of the dead?


Freshly prepared bread of the dead in a bakery in Mexico City, capital of Mexico. Photo: Xinhua.

The origin and meaning of the bread of the dead

The bread of the dead as an offering to the deceased that is placed on altars in homes is a ritual that is related to some customs of pre-Hispanic cultures. “An offering similar to the current one was that of the goddess Cihuapipiltin, dedicated to women who died from the first childbirth. They were believed to hover in the air causing illnesses among children, for that reason they gave them gifts in the temple or at the crossroads of the road, “says a report from the National Institute of Indigenous Peoples (INPI), an agency dependent on the Government of Mexico.

The offerings consisted of ‘loaves’ of various shapes such as butterflies or rays (xonicuille) made from amaranth and dry and toasted corn bread, which was called yotlaxcalli, others offered some tamales (xucuientlamatzoalli) and toasted corn called Izquitil, almost all the offering was amaranth because they considered it a special food “, continues the report, based on the writings of Fray Bernardino de Sahagún, Franciscan missionary author of the work General history of the things of New Spain.

A baker sprinkles sugar on freshly baked pan de muerto in Mexico. Photo: XINHUA

A baker sprinkles sugar on freshly baked pan de muerto in Mexico. Photo: XINHUA

However, other research indicates that the tradition is European. In an essay published by the National Institute of Anthropology and History of Mexico by the historian Elsa Malvido, it is noted that already in the Middle Ages, Catholics made a similar bread that was offered on altars.

How to prepare the bread of the dead

The original base of the bread of the dead is a dough made of wheat flour, eggs and sugar, which acquires a round or oval shape (symbol of the human skull) with different decorations. The most common is four crossed strips that mimic human bones. From there, there are numerous varieties, flavors, shapes, colors.

In every corner of the Mexican territory they boast of having their own version. It can have human or animal figures, or personalized decorations for each deceasedThey come filled, colored, with different ingredients, ice cream and even beer.

Chocolate dead bread. Photo: @frenesixocolate.

Chocolate dead bread. Photo: @frenesixocolate.

Mexicans can make them at home with very simple family recipes or buy them even in the most sophisticated and modern versions of the most exquisite pastry shops.

The recipe for pan de muerto

1. Recipe for traditional bread of the dead

2. Bread of the dead with beer recipe

3. Recipe for pan de muerto with orange blossom

4. Pink dead bread recipe

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