Whether living or dead, ‘man cannot live on bread alone’. For souls returning to visit their loved ones on Day of the Dead vegetables and fruits placed on the altars represent the deep connection to the source, to Mother Earth and provide nourishment for their long journey.
Let’s take a look at some of the fruits and vegetables typically found on Day of the Dead altars.
This tuber represents the earth from which man comes, and to which we return in death. As water is necessary for sustaining life, this watery vegetable can also serve that purpose, giving the dead precious refreshment. The vine of the jicama may also be used to make an arch over the altar.
The glow of sweet oranges and tangerines, along with the bright golden cempasuchítl flower (Mexican marigold) light the way for the dead, while their sweet juice gives sustenance.
Calabaza en tacha is a preparation of small hardened squash cooked soaked in a syrup of piloncillo (raw cane sugar formed into pylon-shaped cones) and spices. Holes are bored through the wall of the squashes in order to fill the centre with the syrup before roasting. The seeds are left in – to be used by the dead to find their way back – and the sweet syrupy dish is a rich delicious treat.
Guayaba (guavas) and tejocotes (a Mexican crabapple) are seasonal fruits that perfume the altar and rejuvenate the soul. Both are also ingredients in ponche – a warm fruit punch that is served from Dia de los Muertos through la Navidad, the Christmas season. These two ingredients in particular are very high in Vitamin C and they are well understood for the boost they give to the immune system, for living and dead alike.
Sugar cane accompanies guayaba and tejocote as an ingredient in the seasonal ponche. Some say the long canes, sometimes attached together into a tripod formation, represent a place on which enemies can be hung, but most look upon it for the sweet and juicy sugar itself which family enjoys snacking on at the gravesite with the usual chile and lime.
To honor the memory of the dead, It’s important to personalize the ofrenda with other favorite fruits of the deceased, so you may see papaya, mango, cooked plantain or other local fruits. The dearly departed deserve plenty of sweet and nutritious sustenance to refresh and strengthen themselves for the soul’s long journey back to its resting place.