Celebrating The Day Of The Dead

Sugar SkullsSally LaucknerSugar skulls by Mano a Mano.

Over the weekend, Mano a Mano, a non-profit organization that promotes Mexican culture in the United States, held its eighth annual Dia de los Muertos celebrations at St. Mark’s Church-in-the-Bowery. Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a Mexican tradition that dates back to pre-Hispanic times and celebrates the annual return of the departed.

Although the actual holiday is on Nov. 2, East Villagers got a head start by enjoying Mexican food, shopping for knickknacks and attending bread-making workshops.

Juan Aguirre, the program director at Mano a Mano, explained that St. Mark’s Church is the perfect location for a Dia de los Muertos festival because the church’s east yard is a cemetery and in Mexico, the celebration is held in cemeteries where deceased family members are buried.

“In trying to recreate the traditional Mexican village celebration in New York City, we were looking for all the elements and St. Mark’s was the ideal place,” said Mr. Aguirre. “They are forward-thinking and are a very culturally diverse church. They have been welcoming to us.”

Sugar Skulls

Sugar SkullsSally Lauckner

“In Aztec times, they put real skulls on altars,” said Mr. Aguirre. “Now we make skulls from sugar and write the name of the person who died on them. After the altar is taken down, the sugar skulls are eaten.”

Pan de Muerto

pan de muertoSally Lauckner

Francisco Lopez, Jr., owner of Don Paco Lopez Panaderia sold Pan de Muerto, or Bread of the Dead.Mr. Lopez explained that the cinnamon-flavored bread is round to represent the circle of life, while the sesame seeds symbolize the tears shed when a loved one dies.

Main Altar

main altar detailSally Lauckner

This year’s main altar honored those who fought in the Mexican Revolution and the Mexican War for Independence. Festival-goers put photos of deceased family members and lit candles on the altar, alongside fruits, flowers, sugar skulls and Pan de Muerto. The smell of marigold flowers is believed to guide the dead to the site.

Smaller Altars

drug trafficking victims altarSally Lauckner

Three smaller altars flanked the main one. The photo shows the altar dedicated to drug trafficking victims, while others honored dead children and women who died in Juárez City.


dia de los muertos marketplace 2Sally Lauckner

Vendors in St. Mark’s east courtyard sold candles, jewelry, dolls, sugar skull molds, flags, and calendars over the weekend.

Roast Pork With Pineapple

Pork roasting with pineappleSally Lauckner

Locals Frank Buchanan and Li Ouyang swung by when they saw the festivities. They sampled tacos, corn and hot chocolate. Mr. Buchanan said that he used to live in Mexico and appreciated the traditional method of preparing pork with pineapple. “That’s hard to find in the city,” he added.