Dia de Muertos isn't a holiday I grew up celebrating, even though I was raised by my Mexican grandparents. But, having lived in Mexico for so many years, it's a holiday that I've come to embrace and love.
One of my favorite things to do for Día de Muertos is to visit el panteon (cemetery) and walk around admiring all of the beautifully decorated altars. Every altar de muertos must include a few key elements such as flores de cempasúchil (Mexican marigolds), candles, glasses of water, photos of the deceased, vibrant banners of papel picado, various food ofrendas (offerings), and personal mementos.
It's the personal mementos and food ofrendas that really help you get a feel for each person's personality. That's why one of my favorite things to do while visiting el panteon for Día de Muertos is talking with my kids about what kinds of things I think they should include on my altar de muertos in some 50+ years from now. We've compiled a list...
What I want on my Altar de Muertos:
(In no particular order)
- A smartphone: I am never without my cell phone. I use it for keeping up with family & friends via texting or social media, I use it for work, I use it to take notes, scheduling and keeping track of important dates and appointments, to listen to music, and I use it for taking pics of the life around me.
- An American flag: Because you can take the girl out of the USA, but she will always bleed red, white, and blue.
- Platos y ollas de barro: To represent my love of cooking and Mexican cuisine.
- Assorted chile peppers: Because this girl likes a little heat with her meals.
- A rolling pin: As a symbol for my love of making freshly baked bread.
- A big-ass cup of coffee: Because a life without coffee is no life at all. That goes for the after-life as well.
- A bottle of Jack Daniels: If I'm not drinking coffee, I'm probably drinking whiskey.
- Make-up: I'm incredibly girly. I've always loved to play with makeup and probably always will. So be sure to leave out a couple of shades of lipstick (in nude, purple, and red), an eyebrow pencil, mascara, and a little blush because I'm sure I'll be looking deathly pale.
- My cookbook: As a reminder that dreams do come true.
- Sunflowers: One of my favorite flowers. Please also include bright, colorful gerbera daisies, yellow roses, and assorted tulips.
- Something leopard print: Nothing would make my inner Peggy Bundy happier than a leopard print scarf, a purse, or some really sexy heels.
- Candles: Buy (and light) all the candles!
- Food offerings: I'll be happy with pretty much anything, just don't forget to include peanut m&m's (my weakness), chocolate chip cookies, Tacos de Barbacoa, pepperoni pizza with jalapeños, French fries (hold the ketchup), pickles, mint chocolate chip ice cream, and a banana cream pie.
- Cigarettes: Menthols, please! I'm not a smoker, and I'm not proud to admit this, but occasionally--like when life gets super stressful and overwhelming--I will light up a cigarette as a way to relieve stress. (I know... It's a horrible habit. So please, no lectures.) Also, don't try to be cute and "accidentally" forget to leave a lighter.
- Personal items/mementos: A few pics of my kids (so people know whose mom I was), a unicorn or pegasus (which reminds me of my mom), a miniature billiards game, a deck of cards (Do you get the sense that I grew up in honky-tonk bars?), music (country, 80's hair metal, some George Michael, José Alfredo Jimenez, and jazz), costume jewelry, perfume, my tambourine (the only toy I have from my childhood), a copy of my favorite book (Como Agua Para Chocolate by Laura Esquivel), and a notebook and pen (because I'm always taking notes or writing).