Although celebrating Halloween is relatively new in central-European countries, All Saints and All Souls Days have been national holidays there for hundreds of years. In Poland, Hungary, Croatia, Lithuania, and other neighboring countries, age-old traditions exist. These include such things as placing flowers on graves and burning candles there for the departed to help guide the way to everlasting light.
Windows and doors are left open in Poland to welcome spirits of loved ones, and a pink candy known as the Lord’s Crust is sold at cemeteries. Church bells ring at sundown in some central European towns to remind citizens to burn decorated candles for their dearly departed. Family members often pray the rosary during this time. On the food front “All Souls” cakes are eaten in many European countries. The treats are sweetened with sugar and orange and lemon zest. Many charitable acts take place on these days, too. Traditionally dinners have been prepared and apportioned for the dead, and after diners complete their meals those uneaten portions are given to the needy.
Día de los Muertos, or The Day of the Dead is a Mexican tradition that varies from region to region in its foods and activities. It grew out of both Aztec and Christian traditions, and is generally more festive than European commemorations. It focuses on celebrating ancestors’ lives and welcoming the return of their souls for the holiday. Candles are lit to guide spiritual visitors back home to join with their families in the happy activities. Graves are cleaned and sometimes even repainted for the event. Foods include colorful sugar skulls, tamales, semisweet breads called Pan de Muertos, which are often baked in the shape of bones, and pumpkin and amaranth seeds. The alcohol flows to help fuel a joyous mood.
Most recipes for Pan de Muertos take some time because they are yeast-based. But if you want to have a little fun with the concept, and you’re pressed for time, you can form some Pillsbury or other brand of bread crust dough (find it in the supermarket refrigerator case) into bone shapes and sprinkle them with a little powdered sugar, orange zest, and ground anise. Bake them until they are golden brown. They won’t yield the authentic taste and texture of the real deal, but can be an enjoyable way for kids to get their hands on the spirit of this tradition.
If you’re less ambitious, pop by a local Mexican restaurant that serves tamales and celebrate the easy way.
Sugar Skull Photo Courtesy of Blue Mountain
Pan de Muertos Photo Courtesy of Moon Momentum