Category Archives: Day of the Dead

Dia de Los Muertos: Remembering

Did you read the Convivio Dispatch for Halloween? The story, just slightly ghostly, was titled “That Which is So Universal,” and if you are subscribed to my Dispatches from Lake Worth, it would have arrived as a plain text email to your inbox on Halloween. If it did not, then it is either in your junk mail box, or you are not subscribed. If you are not and you’d like to be, just click here to do so. I’ll see that you get the story.

The archway in the photo above is the entry to Woodlawn Cemetery in West Palm Beach, where I was walking late this morning. Home now, but there is much to do to prepare for our Dia de Los Muertos celebration, which, for us this year, will be spread out over a few days. Tonight Seth and I will be together and we will remember our loved ones. Saturday, though, is the day we will get together with my mom and sister for more festivity, for it is the day of our annual Dia de Los Muertos celebration here in Lake Worth. My mom and sister and Seth and I will all be there, along with the mariachi and the dancers, the wonderful food, and all the people dressed as Catrinas and Calaveras. We’ll have a booth selling our traditional handicrafts from the artisans of San Miguel de Allende. It is an amazing night in our community, and I hope you can join us if you are nearby. Here is a link to the event’s webpage, and here is a link to the event’s Facebook event page. It all takes place at Hatch 1121 (the old Lake Worth Shuffleboard Courts) at 1121 Lucerne Avenue (between Lake and Lucerne just west of Dixie Highway) in Downtown Lake Worth. The music and the dancing and the food at this celebration are wonderful, but mostly it is the community that impresses me so much. Please come, and if you do, be sure to say hello.

Some more photos… here is a Pan de Muertos from La Villa Bakery in Boca Raton:

Our family version, for which I posted a recipe in yesterday’s chapter of the blog, looks a bit different. Ours is braided and long, not round, and the bones are always white, as we make sure to avoid sprinkling the sugar on them, and our sugar topping is actually a blend of cinnamon, sugar, and anise seeds. And then here is a photo of Cicci Cutto:

That’s a close up shot of the concoction, which is made from pomegranates, roasted almonds and hazelnuts, cooked wheat grain, and small chunks of chocolate, all swimming in an unusual homemade spiced syrup called cutto, traditionally made from grape juice reduced over a low flame for many hours. We call it U Cutto in our dialect from Lucera, and it is the subject of a book I made many years ago. Someone recently bought a copy and it was nice to get reacquainted with this work of mine from two decades ago. My mom and sister made the cicci cutto for Halloween two nights ago, but we were too full to eat it then, so we are saving it for Saturday’s gathering. In some parts of Italy it is made for December 13th: Santa Lucia’s Day, but my grandmother always made for this time of year, these autumnal days of the dead known in Italy as I Morti. It is a somewhat penitential dessert, something rich and complex that invites us to think about what we are eating and its connection to story and metaphor… especially that of Persephone and her pomegranate seeds and her yearly descent down below the earth. We follow in her footsteps at this time of increasing darkness.

And so we do these things we do just at this time of year, this time of increasing darkness, and we remember those who have come and gone before us. It is good, it is right, to do this, shining love and light across time and space and connecting us all.

¡Feliz dia de los muertos!


Harvest, or Your November Book of Days

Halloween is past, and now we are fully immersed in the Days of the Dead: All Saints Day today (Ognissanti in Italian) and on Thursday, All Souls Day, Dia de Los Muertos. As you can tell by the different languages, remembering those who have passed at this time of year is a custom across various cultures, but no where is the custom as big as it is in Mexico. What is common across the board is that this is a time of celebration, of celebrating life, and that is a pretty wonderful thing.

One of the aspects of the celebration in Mexico is Pan de Muertos: Bread of the Dead. In my family, we bake a delicious version just slightly sweet, flavored with cinnamon and anise seeds. Our recipe is below. It’s a wonderful way to mark the day, and to remember all who have come and gone. Bread of life. Celebration of life.

And since it is the start of a new month, we have our monthly gift to you, as well, and here is the November edition of your Convivio Book of Days calendar. The calendar is a nice companion to the blog, a printable PDF on standard letter size paper. Have a lovely month. And now, here’s that recipe. Each year, my mom says the same thing: “Why do we make this just once a year?” And then another year goes by before we make it again. All things in their time.

1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup butter, cut into 8 pieces (or shortening)
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 package active dry yeast
1/4 cup very warm water
2 eggs
3 cups flour, unsifted

1. Bring milk to a boil. Remove from heat, then stir in butter, sugar and salt. (My mom, who does not like butter, uses shortening.)

2. In a large bowl, mix yeast with warm water until yeast is dissolved. Let stand 5 minutes, then add the milk mixture.

3. Separate the yolk and white of one egg. Add the yolk to the yeast mixture, saving the white for later. Add the other egg, too. Now add the flour to the yeast and egg mixture, blending well until a ball of dough is formed.

4. Flour a work surface very well and place dough in center. Knead until smooth. Return to the large bowl, cover with a clean dish towel, and let dough rise in a warm place for 90 minutes.

5. Grease a baking sheet. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Turn dough out onto floured surface again and knead once more. Then divide the dough into fourths. Set one fourth aside. Roll the remaining three pieces into ropes, all of about the same length. They should be fairly hefty––not dainty ropes.

6. Pinch three rope ends together and braid. Finish by pinching ends together on opposite side. You should have one long braided loaf. Next, divide the remaining dough in half and shape each half into a bone. Cross the “bones” in an “X” shape and lay them atop the braided loaf.

7. Cover bread with the dish towel again and let it rise for 30 minutes more. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, mix the following:

3 teaspoons sugar
3/4 teaspoon anise seeds
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

8. In another bowl, beat egg white slightly. When the bread has finished its 30 minutes of rising, brush top with egg white and sprinkle with the sugar mixture, being careful not to get any on the crossed bones. Bake for 35 minutes, or until done, at 350 degrees.

Each loaf serves 8 to 10. If you try it, let us know how you like it. You know we love to hear from you, and as always, we wish you very good days.

John & Seth


¡Feliz Día de los Muertos!


Día de Muertos

In other places we stumble
upon the grounds
where we bury our dead.
I am thinking, for instance, of Pine Level
where the magnolia blooms were bigger
than our hands; we read
the stones, touched them, talked of what it is
to die, our hands beneath our heads, the sky
pressed close before our faces.

I’ve pulled the guitar from the closet.
There are candies on the ofrenda in the hallway,
and black cloth, a crucifix, cut paper,
and here: your favorite scent of candle, nutmeg,
the sugar calaveras, dancing
skeletons, bread to eat,
and photographs.

I felt lost each time we opened
the ground. Parts of me
kept falling in, covered with dirt
and flowers. But today we’ll dance won’t we
esto día we’ll dance amidst skeletons shaking
animated bones, the wooden floor, the hats
and women in skirts spinning
green spinning red blue and orange, music
and laughter: such human sounds.

What is it to die? We could think
of nothing, and maybe it is
But to live, my God
Love, I said
Continue what was begun
I will dance with you
drink bone punch
We will laugh today like when you
could not catch your breath
We’ll sweep the floor with your skirt,
keep time with the violins and guitars.


So the poem: I wrote that, oh, a few years ago. The video? Some excellent student work from the Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota. It’s Día de Muertos today, Day of the Dead. Tonight we’d do well to light candles, play festive music, and dance with those we love who return to visit. Have a wonderful time, even if the celebration is just kept in a small corner of your heart. And if you’re here in lovely Lake Worth this Saturday evening, come see us at our town’s Día de Muertos celebration. Seth and I will be there with all of our traditional Day of the Dead handicrafts from San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. You can also expect festive music (mariachi and marimbas!), dancing, food, fun for kids, a vintage auto show, and a Day of the Dead procession. It’s all at the Armory Art Annex, which is the old Lake Worth Shuffleboard Courts building. Inside the gallery, beautiful altars. Outside in the courtyard is where everything else will be. Word has it there’ll be Mexican hot chocolate, too!

It’s on Saturday from 5 to 9 PM at the Armory Annex, 1121 Lucerne Avenue here in Downtown Lake Worth, just west of Dixie Highway (in between Lake Avenue and Lucerne Avenue). Be sure you stop by and say hola to us. ¡Felix Día de Muertos!