Tag Archives: ancestor worship

Pan de Muerto

Context: the informant, A.F., is a 21 year old USC student. Her family is Mexican, when asked about rituals or festivals, she brought up Dia de Los Muertos. Before she explained her family customs, she did give me a small disclaimer, saying that a lot of this feels normal to her, and so she wasn’t sure what would/wouldn’t matter.

Text: The informant explained that when her family celebrates Dia de Los Muertos, they always buys a specific bread, known as “pan de muerto”. She described pan de muerto as a round sweet bread with a cross on top; along with this, she explained that her family also makes the favorite foods of their loved ones who have passed. When asked if she leaves some out for ancestors, she told me that they do that alongside eating it. Her family puts up an altar in their house with photos of loved ones who have passed, decorating it with their favorite foods, candles, and a vibrant flower that her family calls “cempasuchil.” She told me she wasn’t sure what flower it was exactly, but she thought it was a marigold. To offer the bread and food to them, her family places it on the altar.

Analysis: Pan de muerto, or bread of the dead, is a typical part of Dia de los Muertos festivities, as is creating an altar for the living to offer things to their dead loved ones. The act of placing food on the altar for them seems like an idea based in homeopathic sympathetic magic, in that items given to photos of loved ones will also be given to their spirits in the afterlife. As the photo looks like the person, affecting it in some way will also affect the person, even once they’ve passed. The bread itself, to the informant, is essentially just a normal sweet bread, but the intent behind offering it is what matters, rather than anything special about the bread.