The first time I heard of “Dia de los Muertos” was when James Bond chased a criminal through the Day of the Dead parade, in the 2015 movie, Spectre. I was blown away by the stunning skull masks, the fascinating costumes, and that great celebration of death! I wanted to be there, in the midst of all that death-inspired pageantry, hiding behind a coloured face, parading down the streets, part of that throbbing, massive horde. What a carnival! What a spectacle!
It took time, but I got around to recreating a small sliver of that celebration in my own way. Since I couldn’t go to Mexico, I brought Dia De Los Muertos home, right in the heart of Mumbai.
Having lost some truly dear ones in the past few years, death, understandably, isn’t my favourite topic. But over time, I have been able to turn my remembrance into a celebration of their life and memories.
A Celebration Of The Cycle Of Life And Death
That’s exactly what Day Of the Dead festival is – a celebration and remembrance of lost friends and family. The origin of the festival lies in the ancient traditions among its pre-Columbian cultures. These civilizations have had rituals celebrating the deaths of ancestors for almost 3000 years. The modern celebration’s roots come from an old month long festival that fell in the ninth month of the Aztec calendar.
The festive atmosphere of the modern day Dia de los Muertos, the vivid colours and sugar skulls are a representation of the belief that death is simply a continuation of the life cycle. The festival sees families and communities coming together to hold vigils and parties in honour of those they’ve lost. They decorate alters to honour the deceased, often with the deceased’s favourite foods or personal items.
Mexico And Beyond
Apart from Mexico, the Mexican communities in America and South America also celebrate the festival each year. In fact, Mexico isn’t even the source of the celebrations. It originated in the Philippines, which was governed from Mexico City by the Viceroyalty of New Spain in the 1500s. Families in the Philippines celebrate it by spending the night in graveyards playing cards and drinking. Brazil, Ecuador, and Belize, also celebrate the festival with their own variations.
Dia de los Muertos – Table #3
After the stark, black and white Halloween table last week, it was a transient experience creating a colourful table, adorned in the traditional colours of Dia de los Muertos. Each one of them has significance to the roots and meaning of Dia De Los Muertos. The yellow depicts the sun and unity, because to the Sun, we are all the same. White stands for purity, and the spirit. Red represents the life force. Purple represents the grief and mourning of the ones who have lost a loved one. And Pink signifies happiness, even in the face of our own mortality.
Flowers and butterflies
Did you know that Marigold is the traditional flower used in Dia De Los Muertos? Mexicans sometimes call it the Flor de Muerto (Flower ofDead), as they believe that the scent of the flower and its vibrant colors help lead the spirits to the alters in their family home. The skulls, extensively used in the festival, are no morbid décor, but a representation of the cycle of life and death. The large butterflies cutout bunting across the border of the table is a nod to the Monarch butterflies, that represent the souls of the departed.
I used a simple white on white serving setting, with a plastic spoon-fork to keep things casual. A marshmallow lollypop took the place of the sugar skull. A glass, crystal-cut goblet, and a steel tumbler finished the setup.
The Unusual Centrepiece
The centerpiece took our cook by surprise when she walked in and saw a freshly painted red skull just sitting there on the table, smiling at her. I used a simple, plastic skull – a “shots holder” procured from a local party shop. Using paper and fabric flowers, and some feathers, I created my first ever skull décor. My first ever skull anything. It’s amazing now some flowers changed that painted, plastic skull into a non-grotesque table accessory.
Using felt sheets as table mats was a bit of a last minute cheat, but worked out well. I used a couple of old beer bottles, with skull labels, to create a bit of elevation across the table.
Btw, a bit of trivia about that James Bond film, Spectre, that started it all. Before the movie, no such parade took place in Mexico City. Thanks to the film’s popularity, and the government desire to promote the pre-Hispanic Mexican culture, the authorities decided to go ahead with an actual “Día de Muertos” parade. 250,000 people attended the first parade through Paseo de la Reforma and Centro Historico, on October 29, 2016. Talk about Hollywood Influence!