Of the two late autumn festivities, Halloween and Day of the Dead (All Souls’ Day) I confess I prefer All Souls’ Day when I am in a country that celebrates it. Halloween is, of course, fantastic. Scary make up, brilliant pranks (the rubber finger in the bowl of crisps, the rubber eye in the beer glass), and absolutely fabulous junk food. Inspiration for Halloween costumes, make up, parties, decorations, and food is all over Pinterest. My friend Jules had to quite cold turkey after spending three full days surfing and writing down recipes for her Halloween party. All Souls’ Day, or Day of the Dead on the other hand, is a quieter, quirkier affair and all you need to do is search Day of the Dead or All Souls’ Day on Pinterest and you will see that.
There is real meaning in All Souls’ Day food and decoration: We want to tempt our dead to visit us for a while. First, we make it easy for them to find us. They come in through the front door, don’t you know, so we make a path out of brightly coloured petals from the front door to the altar that we have built in their honour.
We attract their attention by using brightly coloured paper and flowers on the altar, and by lighting candles and burning incense.
We welcome them by placing some soap and water and perhaps a comb so they can freshen up after their journey. We honour them by offering them life’s basics: bread, water, corn, and salt.
We tempt them to stay by placing all of their favourite things on the altar – the music they loved, the cigarettes they smoked, the beer they drank, their favourite food and sweets.
We also make it easy for them to leave by placing chocolate on the altar which they use to buy their way back into the land of spirits.
Of course there is a special bread that we leave on the altar and eat ourselves. Like all celebration bread it is enriched with butter and eggs and, in the case of this bread, it has orange and anise added for flavour. Shaped like a skeleton (sort of) the bread is a reminder of what we will all be one day. There is a recipe in All You Knead Is Bread for pan de muerto. It’s not at all difficult and well worth eating any time, to be honest.
OK, there is something a bit creepy in Day of the Dead, even though we make light of it by decorating our homes and neighbourhoods with grinning skills and skeletons.
But we kind of like it and it does force us to contemplate the whole of life – ours and those who went before us.