How to celebrate Dia de los Muertos at home
Dia de los Muertos - day of the day.
In Search of Authenticity
Dia de los Muertos is often imagined only how Hollywood has portrayed it - extravagant makeup, huge parades, skulls everywhere - and while some areas DO do it big, that’s not what it’s about.
Dia de los Muertos originated from the Aztec (whom my family descended from!), and was eventually blending with the Catholic holiday All Souls Day - the purpose is to honor those who have passed before us, to live I remembrance of the family members that brought us to where we are today.
Growing up, we didn’t formally celebrate Dia de los Muertos - but it was in our daily routine to remember. My grandma always had an ofrenda in the house with pictures of my Tia Patsy and my great grandparents. There were candles always lit, all day. Familia doesn’t forget. Even though Tia Patsy passed away when I was only one, I felt like I knew her because my family kept her alive in remembrance.
Two summers ago, we lost the matriarch of our family, my beautiful grandma. Since then, I’ve felt so disconnected from my heritage. There’s no more tamales, no more menudo, no more watching novelas in her living room or finding her in the kitchen. This year, I decided to honor my grandma and our heritage by celebrating with my kids - I want them to know who they are and who came before them! At the end of this post, you’ll find the Eulogy I shared at my grandma’s service.
Celebrate at home
I always joke that I’m not a Pinterest mom - I’m more of an Instagram mom ;) So I don’t go all out with DIY or decorations - but I do love to celebrate my culture and pass on the reverence my ancestors have for family. You don't need to be the DIY queen or travel to Mexico for a parade in order to celebrate Dia de los Muertos! Here are some easy, attainable ways we celebrated in our home this year!
1. Get in the kitchen!
In our culture, the kitchen is a family hub - so many memories of my childhood take place in my grandma’s kitchen. I can think of the menudo she’d serve for breakfast, or the tamales on Christmas morning. I remember so much te de anise when I was sick, or caldo de pollo. I remember so much laughter in the kitchen, so many tears and words of consolation.
To celebrate Dia de los Muertos, you don’t have to cook anything fancy - just whatever you cook, do it as a family!
SUGAR SKULL COOKIES
We love making simple sugar cookies - let the kids roll the dough, make a mess, use the cookie cutters and sneak bites of dough. I'm a "lazy" mom - I buy the package mix and just add water and eggs!
This year we made Conchitas - its a dish you won’t find at “Mexican restaraunt”. In fact, most of the dishes my grandma prepared weren’t what Americans associate with Mexican Cuisine. We’re from Sabinas Hidalgo, and this dish in particular was a childhood favorite.
Here’s the recipe I use - it will never be as good as my grandma’s, but I’ll keep trying!
1 Tablespoon Vegetable Oil
1 bag Skinner Medium Shells (use 1/2 Bag)
4 cups Water
1 can 8 Oz Hunts Tomato Sauce
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 cube Tomato Flavored Bouillon (Caldo de Tomate)
Lemon to taste
Add oil to a medium size pan, add shells and toast until golden brown stirring constantly so they don’t burn.
In a blender, mix the tomato sauce, garlic powder, pepper, and the bouillon cube until the bouillon cube is completely broken up
Add 3 cups of the water and the tomato paste mixture Bring to a point until liquid reduces by half.
At this point you can cover and simmer for about 15 minutes for an al dente shell or add another cup of water then simmer for 15 minutes for a more tender shell.
Add salt and pepper to taste.
Add lemon to taste
MEXICAN HOT CHOCOLATE
And of course, I love serving them (okay, serving myself) Mexican Hot Chocolate - here’s the way my grandma and mom always made it growing up!
Bring milk and 3 cinnamon sticks to a simmer in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, whisking occasionally and making sure milk doesn’t boil, until you can smell the cinnamon (about 10 minutes)
Whisk in chocolate - I always used Ibarra Chocolate - some people say the Abuelita brand is more authentic, but don’t be fooled! Abuelita Chocolate is made by Nestle!
If desired, add a ¾ teaspoon vanilla extract (or almond extract) to add a depth of flavor
Whisk frequently, until mixture is smooth and creamy and chocolate is melted, about 5 minutes
To create a frothier, smoother beverage, my family always put the hot chocolate in the blender for a minute - you can keep the cinnamon sticks in or take them out!
Divide hot chocolate among mugs. You can be fancy and top with whipped cream and dust with cinnamon or cocoa powder!
We love preparing meals in our kitchen - though its small, its smart! Our Samsung Family Hub plays music and holds our recipes, and I can even keep my grocery list up to date as we run out of things! Our Samsung Flex Duo Range gives us the ultimate flexibility in cooking - the range can be split into two ovens, so we can be baking dinner at one temperature while baking cookies in the other half! We love that the oven preheats in minutes and is ready to keep up with our busy lifestyle! It was such an honor to partner with Samsung this year and try out their smart products in our kitchen!
2. Look through old pictures
Hang favorite pictures around the house, and mix in banners of Papel Picado to add color and festivity! I ordered mine here on Amazon! I love showing my kids pictures from my childhood with my family members and giving them a glimpse of their heritage!
3. Share stories
Use every opportunity to share, to keep family members alive in remembrance. While we made sugar cookies, I shared stories about molding masa in dough balls with my grandma every night while watching novelas. While we hung pictures, I shared the story behind each picture and each face. While we cooked dinner, I told them how my grandma was the best cook and could always make something to cure any cold.
In Honor of my Grandma
In honor of my grandma, this Dia de los Muertos I wanted to share the eulogy I gave at her service:
Good morning everyone, and thank you again for being here to celebrate my grandmother. For those of you who don't know me, I’m Carolina, the oldest of all of grandma’s grandchildren. We’ve heard about her beautiful love story with my grandpa, and her selfless life as a dedicated mother - and now I want to share a bit about her impact as a grandmother.
Growing up, I had a special bond with my grandma. My parents worked long hours, and so I was always with my grandma - she wasn't just a grandma to me, she was a mother. I went grocery shopping with her, watched novelas with her, prepared masa and even went to Mexico with her. My youngest tias were more like big sisters to me - in fact, in preschool I used to tell people that I was one of nine. Grandma had that way about her - she never made you feel separate. Her door was open, and when you were in her home, you were loved by a mother. I would also proudly tell people that my grandma was a doctor, because in my eyes, she was. She could fix anything, and she could make anyone feel better. I looked at her with adoration and admiration - no medical degree could top the loving way she would rub Vicks on you when you were sick, or the way she would prepare te de anise or caldo de pollo. They don't teach you that in school - that was just grandma, a nurturer.
In my memories, comfort is synonymous with grandma. Laughter and joy are matched with memories of running in her backyard, of watermelon and otter pops and grandma calling us in for lunch that she had made with love. My entire childhood is set in her home - she
braided my hair and praised me for good grades. And when I messed up, there was no disappointment. She never held anything against me - her door was always open, she was never too busy to be there for anyone.
When I look at her life, I see so much life and beauty and strength that came from her. Nowadays, people tend to measure worth by careers and houses and cars and vacations - but I see in my grandma’s life so much more. I see strength and selflessness and endurance. I see a woman who every day chose to serve and love and care and provide for everyone else first. She always ate last, she never asked for anything, and she always had more love and more attention to give to anyone who walked through her door. She gave life to so many. Her job was hard, but she never gave up. She is the perfect example of love in 1 Corinthians:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.
Love never fails.
And so while we mourn the loss in our family, I am encouraged that she is at peace, and the love she leaves behind will never fail us.