Written by Gail Collins
Dia de los Muertos, Mexico’s celebration of the dead, sounds a lot like Halloween, but there are no pumpkins or witches—skeletons rule the day. The departed souls of young and old return to eat, drink and be merry, as they had done in life. Falling on the first two days of November –All Saints’ and All Souls’ Days— the annual holiday blends the traditional beliefs of the indigenous peoples with Catholic feasts. Parades and parties shut down cities and feature macabre skulls in arts and treats, like pan de muerto, a rich coffee cake with meringue decorations resembling bones.
Despite the skeletons, Dia de los Muertos focuses more on life than death and its natural continuum. Wealthier people build an altar to their loved ones in their home, but most people decorate gravestones with marigolds and personal items. Families gather in the graveyard in the evening to wait for and pay respect to the deceased. Candles are lit, incense is burned and prayers are intoned. During the vigil, the family hosts a festive picnic, telling stories about the departed and enjoying their favorite foods and drink.
MartAnne’s Burrito Palace has long showcased Day of the Dead themed paintings by Flagstaff resident and artist Emma Gardener. MartAnne’s, previously owned by Anna Martinez, as well as Casa Duarte are now both owned and managed by Anna’s daughter, Tina, and her husband, Gonzalo Duarte. The Mexican café above downtown serves MartAnne’s famous breakfast menu, including chilaquiles—a piled plate of leftover corn tortillas, sauce, eggs and more.
“We’d already created the perfect menu there, so we kept it and added on,” Tina said.