Family, feasting and honoring loved ones who are no longer with us—El Día de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) embraces all of this while incorporating rituals dating back centuries. It’s one of the most important national holidays in Mexico, a day off, and despite the focus on the departed and ever-present calacas (gleeful skeletons), it’s a very upbeat celebration. The holiday is also celebrated elsewhere in the world, including Latin America and in the U.S. in states such as Texas and Arizona.
Ornately adorned altars (ofrendas), shrines and vigils are all part of the festivities—as is a cornucopia of special dishes and sweets. Sugar skulls and Pan de Muerto (Bread of the Dead) are staples.
Once a month-long Aztec ritual held in roughly August, the arrival of Catholicism with the Spaniards eventually shifted what’s now known as El Día de Los Muertos to coincide with All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day. Traditionally, Day of the Dead is begun at midnight on Oct. 31 and continues til Nov. 2.
Families build colorful altars in homes, cemeteries and public spaces, bearing special ofrendas to greet the souls of the dead believed to visit the living during this time. Decorative offerings and papel picado (elaborately cut paper) are lovingly handmade. A huge effort is exerted to prepare the deceased’s favorite foods, such as labor-intensive tamales and mole. Traditional offerings include candles, incense, cross of ash, water to quench thirst, sugar skulls, tequila, personal mementos and marigolds, thought to guide souls to the altar with their scent and bright color.
This year, Four Seasons Resort Punta Mita, Mexico’s altar is dedicated to El Santo, a folk hero and one of the greatest legends in Mexican sports. Guests are invited to break from the beach, visit the resort altar and leave a memento in honor of a relative.
Not surprisingly, one of the best places in the world to experience Día de los Muertos is Mexico City. Spontaneously created altars and marigolds line the streets. Vigils take place in cemeteries. And many museums set breathtaking altars with papier-mâché scenes and host special exhibits. Some of the excitement is even within walking distance of Four Seasons Hotel Mexico, D.F.
During Día de los Muertos, lucky guests of both Mexico Four Seasons properties will indulge in delicious pan de muerto, a lightly-sweetened egg bread typically formed into a round. Dough in the shape of bones lines the sides of the round, representing lost loved ones, while a small knot on top symbolizes a teardrop of sorrow. Families place pan de muerto on the altar; souls consume the essence of the bread; and then it’s ready for the living to eat as a part of the celebration.
Honor your ancestors with this pan de muerto recipe from Four Seasons Punta Mita. Pair it with chocolate milk (as many Mexican families do) and savor it with loved ones. Should you not have an altar, gather around the kitchen table and amuse your kids with stories of your relatives. You never know—a new tradition might be in the making (or baking).
• ¼ cup butter
• ¼ cup milk
• ¼ cup warm water
• 3 cups all-purpose flour
• 1¼ tsp active dry yeast
• ½ tsp salt
• 2 tsp anise seed
• ¼ cup white sugar
• 2 tsp orange zest
• ¼ cup orange juice
• 2 beaten eggs
• ¼ cup white sugar
• ¼ cup orange juice
• 1 tsp orange zest
• 2 tsp white sugar (to sprinkle on top)
1. Heat the milk and the butter together in a medium saucepan, until the butter melts. Remove from the heat and add the warm water. The mixture should be around 110 °F (43 °C).
2. In a large bowl, combine 1 cup of the flour, yeast, salt, anise seed and the white sugar. Beat in the warm milk mixture then add the eggs and orange zest; beat until well combined. Stir in ½ cup of flour and continue adding more flour until the dough is soft.
3. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic.
4. Place the dough into a lightly greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size. This will take about 1 to 2 hours. Punch the dough down and shape it into a large round loaf with a round knob on top. Place the dough onto a baking sheet, loosely cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place for about 1 hour or until just about doubled in size.
5. Bake in a preheated 350 °F (175 °C) oven for about 35 to 45 minutes. Remove from the oven, let cool slightly, then brush with the glaze (see below).
6. To make the glaze: In a small saucepan, combine the ¼ cup sugar, the orange juice and orange zest. Bring to a boil over medium heat and boil for two minutes. Brush the glaze over top of bread while still warm. Sprinkle glazed bread with 2 tsp white sugar.
Read our Concierge Recommendations for Punta Mita, Mexico in Four Seasons Magazine.
Katie Dillon writes La Jolla Mom, a lifestyle site covering parenting, travel, cooking with kids, home management and local happenings. After seven years of expat life in London and Hong Kong (Four Seasons Place in Hong Kong was her home for four years), she is now grounded in the seaside community of La Jolla, CA with her husband and preschool aged daughter. You'll also find Katie active on Twitter and Facebook.
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