Traditions connected with the holiday include building private altars called ofrendas using the favorite foods and beverages of the departed. In Mexico the graves are decorated and families spend the night there in celebration and prayer.
The origins of this holiday can be traced to indigenous ceremonies dating back thousands of years to an Aztec festival dedicated to the goddess Mictecacihuatl. She is Queen of the Underworld. Her role is to keep watch over the bones of the dead. She presided over the ancient festivals of the dead, and she is said now to preside over the contemporary festival as well. Her image is a skeleton with an open jaw to swallow the stars during the day.
During late October for the past decade I have created a Dia de los Muertos ofrenda during my Open Studio Tour. For many of my central California coast customers, it was their first experience of this vibrant celebration remembering our beloved relatives and friends who have passed on. On my altars I place bouquets of freshly picked marigolds, "the flower with 400 lives" which I grow each year in my garden. Named cempazuchitl by the Aztec peoples, the scent of marigolds is believed to draw the souls of our loved ones back to earth, forming a welcome path for them to follow home.
This year is my first Day of the Dead in New Mexico, where we now live. I will be creating a private ofrenda where I will place photographs of my dearly departed in colorful frames, alongside an offering of their favorite food. For my Minnesota dad, a plate of snickerdoodles or divinity fudge, specialties he loved when made by his mother, my stalwart Norwegian grandmother Lila. For my mama, a child of Sicilian immigrants, a glass of deep burgundy table wine. For Marya, my "other mother", it has to be chocolate, bittersweet and dark, and plenty of it.
It was in Marya's memory that I set up my first Our Lady of Perpetual Chocolate Shrine and Snack Bar. The shrine is sculpted from clay, fired, painted and gilded. I usually balance some dark chocolate kisses on her head, and surround her with organic, fair trade chocolates, bon bons and brownies, cocoa dusted almonds and butterfingers.
I'll also bake Pan de Muertos (Bread of the Dead). Redolent with anise and decorated with skull and bone shapes, the oval loaves of pan de muertos fill the air with an aroma to die for! Last year, the ants found one loaf and invaded it. I set it outdoors as an offering to all the ants I have killed over the years. They seemed to enjoy it very much.
Here is a prayer to Our Lady of Perpetual Chocolate, which I wrote the year my other mother Marya passed away, suddenly and too soon.
Oh, Bountiful Mother, our Solace and Comfort.
Give us this day our daily bar of dark and sweet delight.
For all the children of war, transform all the bombs.....into bonbons.
Where there is fear, let there appear.... a comforting cup of cocoa.
For those who hunger and thirst for justice, gather us together and shower us......with fondue.
When there is sickness and no desire to eat, bake us a batch of magic brownies.
For all the lonely hearts of our world, deliver a heart shaped box of......nuts & chews.
Where there is bitterness in our lives, infuse it with the sweetness of.....fudge.
Oh, Truffled Goddess of Delight, we yearn for your cocoa kisses.
Come early to our parties and stay late.
Wrap us in your creamy arms.
Melt in our mouths.
Pass the brownies.
~ PattyMara Gourley
A big Thank You to PattyMara for writing this wonderful piece for the Mind Body Spirit Odyssey. You can find the artwork featured, and more of PattyMara's fabulous work in her shop on Etsy!
To see more of PattyMara's work, you may enjoy reading our Mind Body Spirit Artist Series Interview with her, which you can access here.
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