Day of the Dead & All Hallow’s Eve

Ever since a Fall trip to Mexico with our daughter about six years ago, we’ve been setting up a Day of the Dead alter each year. We’re not Mexican, but our daughter likes doing it and delights in the fact we do it and no one else does. Her school is pretty diverse, but only a handful are aware of the holiday – and one of those is her Spanish teacher. Above are the cupcake skulls. We also made traditional sugar skulls that we painted and gave to her classmates. They’re made of meringue powder and sugar painted with tempera paints. No they’re not intended for eating. Yes, three of her classmates ate theirs. Can’t vouch for how tempera paint tastes. Probably better than paste.

Above is the alter. Left is a close up. Each item on the alter has a meaning. Most importantly, there needs to be a photo of a deceased loved one you’re honoring. In our case, having had no one close to us pass this year, we have out a photo of some servicemen that have died in the past year.

Cut-out banners–purple (for pain), white (for hope), and pink (for celebration). There’s also shells to represent water; candles for fire; corn or chili for earth, and a musical instrument for wind. There are three sugar skulls representing the trinity; a small cross; bread; fruit; candy; and a towel, soap and bowl so the “ghost” can wash their hands after the long trip back here to earth. There’s also a pitcher of water and their favorite alcohol to quench their thirst (we chose a beer as being a favorite of the military). Marigolds are a must, as they attract the ghost to this banquet. A feather represents the dawning of a new day, a black dog represents a guide accompanying the soul to the afterlife and a frog represents twilight of another day.

This is a very intense and expensive holiday for self-sufficient, rural-based indigenous Mexicans. They might spend as much as two-month’s salary on their alter. in return, they believe that the happy spirits will provide protection, good luck and wisdom to their families.

We also do the expected carving of the pumpkins, which we just finished. A friend out in the sticks grows a field of pumpkins for her kids’ school and usually has between 200-250 she donates for their school pumpkin sale. We get there before the school pumpkins are picked and get a good selection to chose from. This year we picked three and one was a vary handsome dark green pumpkin. Do you do anything out-of-the-ordinary for Halloween?

I have a long-time garden blog, a popular garden on America's largest garden tour, and have co-written a book on garden design titled, "Buffalo-Style Gardens: Create a Quirky, One-of-a-Kind Private Garden with Eye-Catching Designs" When I'm not doing all that, I am an advertising designer always out looking to design things to promote your business. Look me up at #jcharlier.

5 comments on “Day of the Dead & All Hallow’s Eve

  1. Oh my! Very scary, indeed! :-)Happy Halloween…I just baked chocolate chess pies to take to a neighborhood party tonight. Out here in the country, there are no little trick-or-treaters. Cameron


  2. the mexican tradition has always been fascinating to me. I find the day of the dead way scarier and creepier and far more intriguing than traditions here. nevertheless I love halloween.it gets crazy on our street. we get hundreds of trick or treaters. we carved six pumpkins this year and decorated with a skeleton, black cat and scarecrow. can’t compete with some of the neighbours though. one house has a spectacular display every year complete with coffins, mad scientist, witch and giant inflatable pumpkin and ghost on the roof. they were preparing for weeks. where they put it all for the rest of the year, I don’t know. I’m just glad it’s not me storing all that stuff :)irena


  3. Anonymous

    Very nice pumpkin carvings! Very spooky.


  4. That holiday is something else. Never heard of it. Your skulls sure gave me a start.


  5. Love day of the dead. This year I went as a day of the dead lady with marigolds in my hair. I need to make it to Mexico for this one year.jhbodaweightloss


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