Sunday, November 1, 2009

A Celebration Of Those Who Have Gone Before Us

Happy El Día de los Muertos (aka The Day of the Dead)!

This day commemorates family members and friends who have died. It's a holiday celebrated in Mexico, and by Latin Americans living in the United States. This afternoon I went to a Day of The Dead observance on Cherokee Street in South St. Louis.

Cherokee Street runs east to west south of downtown. The section east of Jefferson is known as an antiques district. I've shopped there many times, but have never been on the Hispanic District section of the street west of Jefferson. The district, a mixture of restaurants and stores, is five or six blocks long, but the epicenter of today's festivities was the intersection of Cherokee and California Avenues.

According to Wikipedia, Day of the Dead traditions include "building private altars honoring the deceased, using sugar skulls, marigolds, and the favorite foods and beverages of the departed, and visiting graves with these as gifts." The ad for today's celebration promised music, altars, and samples of traditional food.

Before I commemorated in the afternoon, though, I started with Mass in the morning. November 1st is the Feast of All Saints, which celebrates all the saints--the known ones as well as the unknown. After Mass I came home, ate lunch, and fed the cats before I got in the car to start my adventure. Cherokee Street is a half-hour drive from my house. The street was crowded, and it took a few minutes to find a parking place on a side street at the west end of the district.

There wasn't a whole lot to the festival, but it was still fun. Many of the stores had altars or shrines with offerings to the dead. Some were more elaborate than others. A fake graveyard was set up on the sidewalk at the main intersection. The "deceased" were those who died of breast cancer, the uninsured, and the immigrants who died crossing the border to the United States. The only music I heard was from some speakers in one of the building windows (but it still sounded good).

As I walked down the street, wonderful smells started wafting through the air. When I passed the third taquería, I realized I should have come hungry! Instead of a meal, I stopped and bought a pan dulce (Mexican sweet bread) sprinkled with sugar and topped with a squiggle of neon-pink icing.

I stopped to browse in a Mexican grocery store; I always enjoy looking at all the exotic ingredients, and trying to figure out what they're used for. Two pound bags of dried chile peppers? Eight types of white cheese? Fresh nopal cactus? They're all there. I ended up buying some spices and heads of garlic that would cost much more at my local grocery store. At the far end of the area, I found a small flea market in a fenced-off parking lot. I bought a jacket that I thought Son Donald would like, but passed on the jewelry, knick-knacks, and record albums.

As I was getting ready to leave, I thought it would be a shame if I didn't have at least a little Mexican food. Maybe one taco? My plans were derailed, though, when I walked past a restaurant that was giving away decorated sugar cookies. I chose a ghost, and nibbled on it as I walked back to my car. It was a great representation of my day.


  1. Thanks for sharing this. I wish I would have known about a celebration like this in my community!

  2. Ha. To think a ghost stopped you from a perfectly good taco!

    Well, this post just goes to show how little I know about St. Louis. I didn't realise there is that kind thing there. Anyway, very interesting indeed.

  3. I love learning new things. Thanks for sharing this.

  4. Y'all are welcome. Although I've been somewhat aware of the holiday (there's a store in another part of town that sells Mexican folk art, including Day of the Dead skeletons and figures), this is the first time I've really experienced it.

    ...mmm...We have a pretty big Mexican population, although it's scattered around town instead of being concentrated in one area. We also have a fairly large Bosnian population. There's a small Chinese shopping district too.