Celebrate Día de los Muertos With Sigma Lambda Beta

Story Faith Ann RuszkowskiPhotos by Thalia Juarez

Halloween is over, but you don’t have to come down from your candy-induced sugar high just yet. Sigma Lambda Beta, a Hispanic fraternity at the University of Texas at Austin, is holding its annual Día de los Muertos celebration today on the Main Mall, which will feature plenty of sweet cultural dishes.

A boy peers into a case of sweets at La Mexicana Bakery.

Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, has deeply rooted culinary traditions. On the Mexican holiday, celebrants often make their deceased loved ones’ favorite foods. “The belief is that those loved ones are coming back to celebrate with you,” says accounting major Irving Reyna, president of Sigma Lambda Beta.

To celebrate their lives, the day is full of festivities to honor the deceased. Traditionally in Mexican towns, mariachi bands play in cemeteries, while families clean tombstones and kids snack on sugar skulls. An integral part of the celebration is placing food for the deceased on homemade altars.

 A traditional Ofrenda (Spanish for Offering) set up to remember and honor the memory of their deceased at La Mexicana Bakery.

“You tend to make foods that your loved ones like, because it is kind of an offering for them. So that day when they come, they get to feast on it,” Alejandro Alvarez, head of Sigma Lambda Beta’s Día de los Muertos celebration, says. “So, you make their favorite food, you set it up as an offering at the altar, and then after Dia de los Muertos is over you gather up the family and you enjoy it with them.”

Both Reyna and Alvarez spent their childhoods in Mexico. When they came to Texas, their Día de los Muertos celebrations were downsized. For them, today’s celebration is a way for Hispanic UT students to continue their traditions on a grand scale and spread cultural awareness throughout campus. To get an authentic taste of Día de los Muertos, Reyna and Alvarez recommend people try these common offerings:

Abigail Grillos an employee at La Mexicana Bakery picks sugar skulls for customers at La Mexicana Bakery.

Tamales Tamales are a huge part of Dia de los Muertos. Making tamales is so important that the process of coming together and prepping the tamales for the event has its own name, “tamaliza.” The basic tamale consists of a corn husk wrapper, meat (usually chicken or pork) and spices with masa harina — a corn flour.

Pan de Muerto

The pan de muerto (Spanish for bread of the dead) (also called pan de los muertos in the USA or dead bread) at La Mexicana Bakery.

“Pan de muerto” is a sweet bread usually glazed in sugar. Its most noticeable feature is that the dough on top of the loaf is shaped to resemble bones. “It translates to bread of the dead,” Reyna says. “So it’s definitely special for this occasion, and it is supposed to symbolize those loved ones who have passed away.” Pan de muerto is relatively simple to make, but the bread takes hours to rise and bake. For those of you who want a quicker fix, Alvarez and Reyna suggest La Mexicana Bakery, where they purchased all of the food that will be served at their Día de los Muertos celebration.

Sugar Skulls

Tradtitional Dia De Los Muertos sugar skulls at La Mexicana Bakery.

When you think of Día de los Muertos, sugar skulls likely come to mind. These skulls, made almost entirely out of sugar, can be made in various colors and are elaborately decorated. They commonly adorn homemade altars during the holiday.

Sigma Lambda Beta’s Día de los Muertos celebration takes place 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on November 3 at UT's Main Mall. The food, prepared by La Mexicana Bakery, is free.