Dia de los Muertos

Thanksgiving is often hosted by Yaya. Numerous Burtons cluster around her big dining room table to eat at least TWO Brussels sprouts along with a groaning board of other delicious food.

My mom, who also likes to host, thought our family should celebrate an autumnal tradition that wouldn’t conflict with Burton Thanksgiving. With two of our loved ones having Mexican ancestry, she suggested we could celebrate the Day of the Dead. It made sense to me. My sister and I, in separate but compatible ways, find meaning and connection in the cycles of life and death; all of us have lost people we want to remember. I think other traditions might feel awkward, an odd fit – but this holiday is an acknowledgment of values we share; and as the winter comes and the light fades, it feels right to think of those who are gone.

This year, the first weekend of November didn’t work for us, so we celebrated today. It was a success. I already look forward to next year.

Like any feast tradition, the food is on centre stage. Mom made tortilla soup that I would have eaten until my face exploded if we hadn’t run out. There was chicken in a zesty broth with !avocado! and !tortilla chips! added at the end – ain’t nothing bad with that combo.

She also made her to-die-for chicken molé, which is one of those dishes that is indescribably its own. Molé performs a marriage of tastes that combine into something completely other: sesame, ancho and poblano chilies, chocolate, tortilla, tomato, and a whole host of other ingredients entwine and roast together and come out dancing.

I made my first Pan de Muerto, which I have been calling “Dead Bread” – because it rhymes, and because my ability to speak with anything approaching a good accent is a dismal humiliation and an insult to Spanish.  I can hear it perfectly in my head, and then I ask my face to say it, and I sound like I’ve gone to the dentist and my tongue is swollen. It was good, although my skull and bones were amusing and the center of the bread was still undercooked. Next year, I will make the bread a little flatter and add a bit more anise.

We decorated sugar skulls that my mom made, and even the young ‘uns learned they’re not really for eating, even if they’re made of sugar. This is tons of fun, and I think the results are pretty awesome – all of us got into it.

Sugar Skulls

I read the creative non-fiction I wrote recently about those people (and traditions) I’ve lost, and showed some of the genealogy I’ve been doing.

We played charades and a hilarious game my sister and W- called “Ainsley Harriet” – don’t ask me why! Ainsley Harriet starts out, in the first round, like the old TV show Password or the board game Taboo: in one minute you have to get your partner to guess as many words or phrases or sentences written on slips of paper from a hat by saying anything BUT what’s written there.  So if the word is “Ghost”, you might say “Spectre. … Movie with Demi Moore and Whoopi Goldburg playing her dead husband.  Says ‘OoooOOOoooOOO'” – etc.

The second round uses all the same slips of paper, but now you have to use only three words to describe what’s on the paper. Again, as many as you can get through in a minute.  The third round is done with charades. The forth, you do charades using only your head, eyes, and neck.

Watching my mother perform “London Bridge is Falling Down” by drawing an arc with her eyes and then nodding her head hard  – hilarious.

John pretty much rocks charades, by the way.

We had flan, bone-shaped meringue, and churros for dessert, which goes to show how much my mother really gives ‘er when there’s a party on the line. So yum.

It was a new tradition of our family, but it was a tradition I very much felt at home in. A celebration of those who’ve come before.



My mom serving flan


  1. mole…yes

  2. Yeah, that’s how my Faux-Pas feels, too.

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