October 31, 2011

What My Mexican Step Dad Never Told Me About the Day of the Dead ~ Nicole Maniez


My mom’s first husband is French, named Michel, with a big, thick French accent.

When they were married, he drank too much wine, ate too much garlic and would fall asleep on the couch most nights reading poetry.

He is my father. He did very little cooking, but did teach us how to cook cheese fondue and Bouche de Noel. Both delicious. Only one needs lots of garlic.

Then the divorce happened and the marriage to another man who was not my father. My mom kept with her foreign tastes and married a man from Mexico named Alejandro, also with a thick accent. He has a moustache too and can be found cooking delicious foods in their kitchen on a regular basis.

During the courting between my mother and Ale, my teenage sensitivities were not enthusiastic about a new man in the house. And why was he cooking things in our kitchen with our utensils? My heart felt bruised, but my stomach became interested in the smell of Mexican hot chocolate, mole, and Mexican chocolate cake. Garlic is great, but chocolate and cinnamon have a whole other appeal.

Rich stories of growing up in Mexico City would accompany the mug of hot and spicy chocolate. But my step dad never told me about the Day of the Dead.

I love the art that accompanies Día de los Muertos. I went to the library to look for books and left with the only one the librarian could find for me, a kid’s picture book. Filled with skeletons laughing, dancing, singing and driving cars, this book also had some essentials of this holiday. The essentials as found in a kid’s picture book are as follows:

Candy skulls. Orange sweet bread crafted to look like wrapped up bodies. Marigolds. Altars. Paper cut-outs of skeletons. Masks. Bonfires with dancing. And then there are the very alive teens that climb into coffins and are paraded around town with neighbors throwing coins and treats into the coffin. That tradition is the biggest challenge to my small mind. It freaks me out. And I love that it exists. Death is mind-boggling, rarely discussed and poorly understood. Day of the Dead allows us to boggle around in the unknown. We face our fears, explore, commune and have fun with death, celebrating the ancestors and loved ones that have passed on. The season turns towards darkness, the earth falls to slumber, the cycles of life are celebrated.

I’ve always lived in the North and have never even seen real life pieces of the Día de los Muertos celebration. I plan to dig for stories from my step dad next time I see him, I’ve already baked some Pan de Muertos. It was delicious. Until then, share your story. Did you grow up celebrating Día de los Muertos or joining in someone else’s celebration? What does it stir up for you?




Nicole Maniez is an acupuncturist, herbalist, yoga teacher and childbirth educator in the Boston area.  She is lucky to get to combine multiple loves into one sweet career, doing what she loves and helping people move closer to health and wholeness.  She is also a momma, an art maker, and an out-of-tune music maker.  Hoping that she will never lose the ability to laugh at her follies (and yours), she cultivates her curiosity in an attempt to keep life entertaining.  She loves mail.  Send her something inspiring.


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