"Our parents always emphasized the importance of putting up our ofrenda (altar) to welcome our loved ones during Dias de Los Muertos. The ofrenda is how we show our loved ones we are welcoming them back with open arms. It’s not only a tradition, but a time when we have our departed loved ones visit us. My ofrenda has their favorite candy, cookies, pan de muerto, sodas, beer, nuts, and fruits.
My in-laws would make it a point to stay up until midnight on the first night so our loved ones wouldn’t be alone when they crossed over to the land of the living. We make sure to have water, a candle, and path of marigold petals to guide them home. My in-laws have since passed, but we still stay up until midnight to welcome them home. I’ll turn off the candle, but I’ll pray my rosary first thing in the morning.
My ofrenda wasn’t always this elaborately decorated and it could be so much more if I could find items like in Oaxaca. I have some sugar skulls that I’ve had for a few years and we started recently started planting the marigolds. My son planted some at his house and his grew to be much bigger than mine. I try to keep the tradition alive with my children. I want them to learn to make pan de muerto and put their own ofrenda when I’m gone. I tell them I’ll need somewhere to come and visit.
We’ve been putting fresh tamales, homemade pan de muerto, and hot chocolate every day. I eat the bread after my loved ones have left, but we believe the taste has been taken by our loved ones visiting.
Making pan de muerto has been in my family as long as I remember. My abuelito would go out and sell pan de muertos every year in Oaxaca, Mexico. He taught my mom, who eventually taught me. I’m attempting to show my kids now to keep the tradition going, but it’s challenging and time consuming. I’ve modernized my mom’s recipe a bit by using butter vs lard and adding orange extract. My bread has a unique shape with designs because I wanted them to resemble more of a body, but I still make some in the traditional shape. My eldest daughter had the most interest in learning how to make it and I hope she can carry on the tradition.
Yesterday was Dia de las Visitas (Day of the Visits) and that’s what I miss most about celebrating in Mexico. We’d go to our family member’s houses and eat hot chocolate, tamales, and pan de muerto as we reminisced on old memories. We usually play music throughout the day and yesterday I played las chilenas from Oaxaca for my dad.
Today is Dia De La Comida (Day of Food), a time when I make the favorite food for those on the ofrenda. I’m planning on making caldo de pollo (a traditional Mexican chicken soup) for them to enjoy.
Since our departed loved ones are home visiting us, my family personally doesn’t go to the cemetery until all the celebrations have passed. There’s no reason to go if they aren’t there. When they leave us again, we’ll go and leave flowers at their graves.
Right now, everyone comes to my house during this time of remembrance, but in Oaxaca, each household is expected to have their own. Mine has pictures of my in-laws and father, but I know that all of my departed loved ones are visiting me even if I don’t have their photos on the ofrenda.”
Paulina, a local baker of pan de muertos (bread is the dead), reflects on the traditions and customs she inherited from her family. She also sells baked goods throughout the year and can be reached at Pau’s Bakery