Today was the Day of the Dead!
According to Wikipedia, which I know is not the most reliable of sources but serves as a good place to begin, the Day of the Dead encompasses two Catholic holidays, All Saints Day and All Souls Day. Yesterday was All Saints Day and the (children & babies) Day of the Dead. Today is All Souls Day and also the (adult) Day of the Dead.
The reason I began to think about this is in true Farheen fashion, somewhat random. I was thinking about my breakfast, which was a couple of slices of “limited edition” pumpkin swirl raisin bread. This, in turn, got me to thinking about a pumpkin bread pudding that I had at an awesome Mexican restaurant called Tierra Grill in Villa Park, which alas, is no longer there.
While part of my mind went to recreate the recipe for this delightful dish from the ingredients I could remember, a greater portion of my thought process devoted itself to recalling the blustery fall day I wandered into the restaurant looking for soup- specifically chicken tortilla soup which had been recommended to me by a dear friend/co-worker. I ordered the soup, which was really nice. But as I was leaving I ordered a dessert to go. And I stood there waiting for it by a window that had an area where someone had created a miniature cemetery with little skeleton figures and flowers. It had a morbid cuteness, and I commented to the woman at the counter that I liked their little Halloween display. She smiled politely and commented that it was not for Halloween, but for the Day of the Dead. I apologized for my ignorance and scurried away with my pumpkin bread pudding (which I will be recreating probably for Thanksgiving).
The gist of the holiday is to honor those who have passed, to celebrate their lives and to celebrate life in general. Death is not necessarily viewed with sadness and fear, but is accepted for what it is – a part of living. While it seems every family seems to have their own way of doing things, the general consensus is to go to the cemetery with your departed loved one’s favorite food, drink, toys, music, etc. and leave it on the headstone. Stories and anecdotes are shared. It sounds like a good time.
While this type of celebration is not typical in the cultural atmosphere I was raised in, this celebration of life reminds me of a story my father tells me anytime I get down on life and living. He told me this story for the umpteenth time a couple of weeks ago when I drove him to his doctor’s appointment. It is a story I like to refer to as the Pakistani Zombie story.
It begins with a young boy walking in the wilds of some -istan. He is special, this boy. He is destined to be a wise and religious leader. He comes across an old man who is a wise and religious leader. These two individuals meet by some strange fluke at dusk, with no shelter for miles around, but strangely enough, near a cemetery. They decide to stop for the night and camp near the cemetery, despite the young boy’s misgivings about being so far from civilization.
The old man reassures the boy that they are near a civilization, gesturing to the cemetery. But they have no food and the boy is worried. The old man tells him not to worry, but to go to one of the graves and ask for food. So the boy goes to one of the graves and does as the old man said, and asks for food. Suddenly, a corpse, screeching and wailing, emerges from the grave carrying a dish of stale food. The boy takes the food and returns to the old man, who hems and haws and declares the food is not to his standard and sends the boy to a different grave.
The boy again does what the old man asked him to do. And again, a rotting corpse emerges from the grave, crying and carrying on, bringing the boy a dish of hot, good smelling food. The boy takes it back to the old scholar who says the food is good but he would like more variety. So the boy goes into the cemetery to ask for food once more. This time the zombie that emerges from the grave is screaming and crying, but carrying a feast, with several dishes of food and hot bread and beverages. The boy gathers all of it up and takes it to the old man who digs in with great relish.
The boy also eats his fill but later is perplexed about what happened. He questions the old man about why the zombies were making such a ruckus. The old man smiles and tells the boy to go ask the zombies. The boy returns to the first grave and asks the zombie to come out. The zombie does, wailing again and moaning, asking why the boy is bothering him after he did what was asked. The boy asks why the corpse is crying. “I am crying and screaming because I never did enough in life. I fed people who needed help the same food I ate myself. I wish God would give me a chance to live my life over. I would feed people more and cherish the life God gave me!” The boy repeats his question at both the next graves and gets the same reply at both. “I didn’t do enough and I wish I could go back and do it all over again so I could do more.”
The boy returns to the camp, a wiser young man.
The moral of the story according to my father is that life is precious and should not be taken lightly. The moral of the story according to me… You should eat whatever your little heart desires when you are alive… When you are a zombie and inevitably wishing that you could have your life over, it won’t matter if you ate right or if you ate junk. You will still be complaining loudly about being a dead zombie. And the people who come to your grave looking for food will thank you for being a foodie while you were alive and breathing.
Happy Day of the Dead!!! Enjoy the bread pudding!!!