Thursday April 17th 2014

Dia de los Muertos: A colorful celebration of the dead in Portland and beyond

By: Susan Axelrod

Handmade sugar cookies (left) and a sugar skull for Dia de los Muertos at El Rayo Taqueria (Photos courtesy of El Rayo)

American Halloween is all about ghouls and ghosts, zombies, witches and things that go bump in the night. We like our holiday fun to be dark and scary (and maybe dripping with a little fake blood).

The dead are honored less frightfully — and more colorfully — in Mexico.  Dia de los Muertos, Day of the Dead, has origins similar to those of Halloween. Although it is celebrated on Nov. 1 and 2 instead of Oct. 31, Dia de los Muertos also marks a time when it is believed that the spirits of the dead return to the living world.

Mexicans welcome the visitors with lavishly decorated ofrendas (altars), festooned with flowers, fruit, special pan de muerto breads and many other offerings, most notably sugar skulls, whose bright colors and elaborate designs reflect Mexican folk art.

Well north of the border, here are a couple of places where Dia de los Muertos traditions are honored in Maine:

El Rayo Taqueria and Cantina El Rayo

85-101 York St., Portland

At the Taqueria, customers are invited to bring in a photo of a deceased loved one, or a symbol of the loved one’s favorite food or drink to be included on the ofrenda. Sugar skulls and beautifully decorated sugar cookies — made by the pastry chef — are available at both locations, right next door to each other at 85 and 101 York St. And of course, there are special cocktails, served only at the Cantina, which has new hours for the winter: Thursday, Friday and Saturday, from 5 to 10 p.m.

Beuno Loco Mexican Restaurante

240 Route 1, Falmouth

The restaurant’s Dia de los Muertos Fiesta on Saturday, Nov. 2,  will include live music, a tapas menu and drink specials all night. Costumes optional.

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