Traditional Mexican Holiday is a Time To Honor Loved Ones who have Passed and is a Rite of Welcoming Fall
When Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack was a little girl in El Paso, Texas, she remembers walking with her grandmother a handful of times to the nearby cemetery to place flowers on the gravesites of the two sons her grandma had lost as babies.
“It was always fall, but she never told me that the special day was Dia de los Muertos,” Yvette says. “It wasn’t until I was older and started learning about the holiday that I realized we must have gone to that cemetery around that time.”
It wasn’t until Yvette’s own daughter was about 8 and her beloved grandmother had passed away that Yvette started learning more about the Mexican tradition that falls on Nov. 2.
“We did it to honor my grandma. I didn’t want her memory and legacy to die,” Yvette says. “I wanted my children to know who she was, as if she was still here on earth, with my stories and memories.”
Yvette has spent almost a decade diving into the traditions of her Tejano roots. In 2010, she started the blog MuyBuenoCookbook.com, which started as a way for her to write down and share with family and friends all the cherished recipes she remembered her grandmother and mother making. Many of those recipes had never been written down before.
She also produces food and travel videos, which explore different aspects of Mexican-American culture. Yvette’s 2017 video, Day of the Dead Celebration, which she wrote and produced, won an Emmy Award for the short format program—informational category.
Filmed at the Parker home of Yvette’s friends, Karen and George Vasquez, the video tells the meaning behind Dia de los Muertos, and how to set up a traditional altar with family photos, the deceased loved one’s keepsakes and special foods.
“I have always wanted to preserve the history of my family and continue to celebrate my culture, and Dia de los Muertos has been the perfect occasion to celebrate my heritage,” Yvette says.
Yvette says certain foods are traditional at a Dia de los Muertos, such as pan de muerto (bread of the dead), decorated sugar skulls, mole, tamales and hot chocolate.
“But truly I recommend making recipes that remind you of the person you are honoring,” Yvette says. “This is the time that I make all my fall favorites, like pumpkin empanadas, because they remind me of my grandma.”
About Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack:
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack is the blogger, YouTuber, cookbook author and recipe developer behind MuyBuenoCookbook.com. Find her Muy Bueno YouTube Channel and @MuyBuenoCooking on social.
Muy Bueno Tip No. 1
Decorate your altar and surrounding areas with papel picado, Mexican perforated paper garland.
Muy Bueno Tip No. 2
Set up your altar to remember loved ones with colorful textiles, special food that reminds you of your family, decorated sugar skulls and other items that welcome fall.
Muy Bueno Tip No. 3
Traditional sweets for Dia de los Muertos include sugar skulls but also conchas and pan dulche (sweet bread).
Gather these items for your own Dia de los Muertos with your family and friends.
Marigolds: These yellow-orange flowers, also called cempasúchil, are the traditional flower used to honor the dead. Their strong aroma is said to help lure a spirit back.
Sugar Skulls: Sugar skulls symbolize happiness. The colorful designs represent the vitality of life and individual personality.
Pan de Muerto: A sweet yeast bread that is traditionally baked the week leading up to Dia de los Muertos.
Candles: Candles represent fire and are a light guiding spirits back to visit the land of the living.