Sugar skulls and Day of the Dead (Nov. 1 and 2)

October 29, 2008

Perhaps because my mom’s a Spanish teacher and I’ve been seeing candy skulls ever since I can remember, the traditional Mexican holiday Dia de los Muertos has fascinated me.  From the simplest altars — merely a snapshot of deceased family members and a jar of marigolds on a countertop — to the fancier ones at shops along Cherokee Street, I’m captivated by the idea of inviting loved ones’ spirits into the warmth of a lived-in space rather than visiting them at the cemetery, as in the American Memorial Day tradition.  Somehow it seems appropriate to do both,outdoors in the spring and indoors in the fall.

If you’re unfamiliar with the Day of the Dead custom, you really should come to Cherokee Street this weekend (Nov. 1 and 2) to see the altars various merchants and restaurants will have set up (some are up now, according to the Cherokee Street News blog, which also has info about the weekend’s events). The best viewing times are 3 to 7 p.m. on Sunday; that’s when the contest will be judged. If you’re interested in making an altar for your own loved ones, stop by Gooolll (2646 Cherokee) for sugar skulls. As I understand it, they’re being made in-house there. Most of the other stores also stock skulls imported from Mexico, but typically they’re sold out a week or two ahead of time.

It’s possible to make your own skulls too, and you can learn how at the Buder branch of the St. Louis Public Library on Saturday (Nov. 1) at 2 p.m. The workshop is free and advance registration is not required for groups smaller than five people; larger groups must call ahead. For details, click over to the kids’ events page.

Another Day of the Dead treat you can make yourself is pan de muertos, a traditional sweet bread, often decorated with the same bright colors as the sugar skulls. But if you’re not a baker, St. Louis has some excellent Mexican panaderias that will supply scores of shops and restaurants with it this weekend, and I highly encourage you to pick up a loaf of theirs (or two — we went through one as we wandered Cherokee looking at altars last year, and later wished we’d brought a loaf home). In fact, Gooolll has discount coupons for local bakeries’ pan de muertos.

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