If you were born during the month of November 25 years ago, you would not be too happy. It was because there were some restrictions related to many traditions that we had 25 years ago. Most of the traditions were religious or spiritual because November is associated with the dead, spirits, and memories of the beloved deceased.
“Pan de Muerto” is the first tradition. This was a special baked bread or bun that mom made and it was placed on an altar to be offered in prayers for the deceased. After the prayers, members of the family ate this bread in honor or homage to the beloved deceased. The bread was now considered holy, and every family member was desirous of having at least one bite.
“Comida Para Las Animas” is the next tradition. This was a banquet with either relleno blanco or relleno negro (a very spicy black chicken dish stuffed with ground pork). Again a plate of relleno was placed on the altar at home on November 1 and after the prayers, the rest of the food was shared with all family members. Chichi Regina (Granny Regina), for example, cooked about ten chickens for her family consisted of some one hundred persons. Besides placing the plate of relleno, other such items that the deceased enjoyed like wine, rum, cigarette or light cake were also placed on the altar.
During the entire month of November, from day 1 to day 31, there was a lit candle on the home altar. It was burning all the time and the rosary was prayed at different times of the day. If we ever saw a little bird in the house, we dared not kill it for it represented the soul of a beloved departed. If there was a moth, again it was considered a distinct honor, for it meant that a beloved deceased would visit the home.
If you were born during the month of November it meant that you could never celebrate your birthday party. No type of parties whatsoever was celebrated. The priest would not even marry a couple during November, because celebrations were not allowed, or at least the community did not support them.
Streets were barren before 9 or 10 o’clock at night in November. People respected the midnight processions of the souls or spirits. Not only that, people feared that they would encounter the “animas” or souls and run the risk of being the next one to die. Back then people died at the rate of one every five years so people really revered death. To live close to the cemetery was unthinkable. Actually in the 1950’s the cemetery was on the outskirts of the village. You only passed there at night if you had an emergency or real need to do so. The cemetery was also highly revered.
Let the traditions continue, at least those that are practical. Let us continue to enjoy the “Pan the Muerto” or the relleno for the deceased as we did 25 years ago.
- by Angel Nuñez, Columnist