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November 02 All Souls Day/Dia De Los Muertos

Updated: Mar 1, 2021

El Dia de los Muertos photograph by Denis Defibaugh from his book The Day of the Dead/Dia de los Muertos

All Souls Day is a traditional Christian feast day which commemorates the memory of the dead. The official observance of All Souls Day was initiated by the Abbot of the Benedictine monastery of Cluny in 1048, but it took another three centuries for the feast to be officially adopted by the Western Christian Church. Technically, All Souls Day is a day of prayer for the souls of the dead who are assumed, according to more conservative Christian tradition, to be in Purgatory, where they are being cleansed of their sins before reaching heaven. It is a common folk belief that the souls in Purgatory are allowed to return to earth on All Souls Day.

All Souls Day is observed with great fervor in Mexico and members of the Mexican community living around the United States and Canada where it is called Dia de los Muertos (The Day of the Dead) and is celebrated on November 1 and 2. The celebrations can be traced back to the indigenous peoples such as the Olmec, Zapotec, Mixtec, Mexican, Maya, P'urhépecha, and Totonac. Rituals celebrating the deaths of ancestors have been observed by these civilizations perhaps for as long as 2500–3000 years. In the pre-Hispanic era, it was common to keep skulls as trophies and display them during the rituals to symbolize death and rebirth.

In most Mexican localities, November 1 is set aside for remembrance of deceased

infants and children, often referred to as angelitos (little angels). Those who have died as adults are honored November 2. Believers make altars in their homes with photos of their deceased relatives and friends and surround them with pan de muertos, a sweet egg bread made in various shapes, from plain round-shaped circles to skulls  often decorated with white frosting to look like twisted bones . These are surrounded with candles, incense, and yellow marigolds. Some believe the deceased visit the living on October 31 and leave on November 2. Often a wash basin and clean hand towel are provided so that visiting souls can freshen up before the feast. The offering may also include a pack of cigarettes for the after-dinner enjoyment of former smokers who did not die of lung cancer or a selection of toys and extra sweets for deceased children.

On November 2, family members gather at the cemetery for festive grave site reunions more. Some bring along picnic baskets, bottles of tequila for toasting the departed or even a mariachi band to lead a heartfelt sing-along. Local merchants set up provisional stands outside the cemetery gates to sell food and drinks. There are often fireworks rockets may announce the commencement of an open-air memorial mass. A common symbol of the holiday is the skull which celebrants represent in masks, pan de muertos and  sugar skulls, which are inscribed with the name of the recipient on the forehead. Sugar skulls are gifts that can be given to both the living and the dead. For those who want to learn more about this celebration, I recommend The Day of the Dead/Dia de los Muertos  by Denis Defibaugh, an extraordinary book of photographs of the festivities.

Many other countries also celebrate All Soul's Day. In Austria, some believe that the departed souls wander the forests, praying for release on this day In Poland,  the souls are said to visit their parish churches at midnight, where a light can be seen because of their presence. Afterward, they visit their families, and to make them welcome, a door or window is left open. In many places, a place is set for the dead at supper, or food is otherwise left out for them. The Italians may have the greatest variety of celebratory foods for All Souls Day.  In Emilia-Romagna there is piada dei morti (dead man's dough), a bread dough made with brewer's yeast and massaged with olive oil, Marsala wine, walnuts, almonds and raisins. The Sicilians elaborate the tradition with frutta dei norti (fruit of the dead), another fruited bread which was originally placed before the tombs of departed family members. There is also an Abruzzi specialty, polpi in purgatorio (baby octopus cooked with tomato, garlic, and parsley in a hot peppered tomato sauce).

The English celebrate the date with pun fully delicious Soles in their Coffins (baked potatoes stuffed with fillet of soles, mushrooms, and crab meat in a wine sauce). The French occasionally prepare the a variation of this dish called Alouettes en Lincceui (baked potatoes stuffed with lark and truffles).

Pan de Muertos

(Bread of the Dead)


1/4 cup butter 1/4 cup milk 1/4 cup warm water (110º F)

3 cups all-purpose flour

2 pk active dry yeast

1/2 tsp salt

1 TB anise seed

1/4 cup white sugar

2 eggs, beaten

1/4 cup white sugar

1/4 cup orange juice

1 TB orange zest

2 tsp white sugar


  1. In a large mixing bowl, combine 1&/2 cups of flour, yeast, salt, anise seed and sugar. Mix thoroughly. In a small pan, heat the milk, water and butter nearly to a boil.

  2. Stir the warm liquid into the dry mixture until thoroughly blended.

  3. Mix in the eggs and 2 TB orange zest and add remaining flour gradually as needed until the dough is soft and not tacky. Knead the dough on a floured board about ten minutes.

  4. Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl in a warm environment. Cover it to prevent drying. The dough should rise for about 1&1/2 hours until it has doubled in size.

  5. Remove the dough from the bowl and press it into a circular shape, adding additional molded or sculpted shapes of bones, or a skull, to the top. Let the sculpted bread rise for an additional hour.

  6. Preheat the oven to 350 º F. Bake for 40 minutes, until golden brown.

  7. While bread is baking, Make glaze by mixing 1/2 cup sugar, 1/3 cup fresh orange juice, and 1/4 cup white sugar in a small pan. Bring to a boil for three minutes stirring constantly.

  8. Remove bread from oven. Add glaze while bread is still warm. Sprinkle lightly with confectioner's sugar (topped with colored sugar sprinkled on to make a design if preferred).

Soles in their Coffins


8 small fillets of sole 2 cups white wine 1/2 cup chopped shallots

salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste 2 TB butter

1/3 cup flour 4 large potatoes, baked in their jackets 1/4 lb mushrooms, sliced 6 oz crab meat



  1. Preheat oven to 350º F.

  2. Roll the fillets and put than in an ovenproof dish with the wine and chopped shallots. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, cover and bake for about 8 minutes - depending on the thickness of the fillets.

  3. Remove the fillets very carefully fran the pan and set aside. Strain the liquid into a small bowl.

  4. Melt the butter in a saucepan. Add the flour and stir for 2 minutes. Gradually add the strained cooking liquid to make a creamy sauce and remove from the heat.

  5. Cut a slice from the long side of each potato and scoop out the potato inside very carefully. Set aside.

  6. Sauté the mushrooms and crab in a little butter for a few minutes. Pour a little sauce into each potato. Put 2 fish fillets on top of the sauce, add the crab and mushrooms and replace the caps on the potatoes.

Popli en Purgatorio (Baby Octopus in Purgatory)


2 pounds baby octopus 2 cups chopped canned Italian peeled tomatoes 1/4 cup olive oil

1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley 3 large garlic cloves, finely chopped

3 TB diavolicchio or "little devil" chilies Salt


  1. Rinse the octopus and drain well. Remove the hard round beak at the base of the tentacles of each octopus.

  2. In a large heavy saucepan, combine the octopus, tomatoes, oil, 3 tablespoons of the parsley, the garlic, chilies, and salt to taste.Bring sauce to a simmer. Cover the pot and cook over very low heat, stirring occasionally, for 45 minutes.

  3. Uncover the pan and cook for 15 minutes more, or until the octopus is tender when pierced with a knife and the sauce is thick.

  4. Spoon onto plates and serve.

Serves 6


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