STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — Marigolds pop in the storefront windows at food shop and restaurant La Mexicanisima in West Brighton. Further down Castleton Avenue, they brighten the curb displays at grocer La Flor De Puebla. From Tompkinsville to Tottenville, the orange sunbursts — aka cempasúchil — are a harbinger of Dia de los Muertos, the Nov. 1 Day of the Dead celebration for Mexicans.
Agustin Gonzalez of Atlixco Bakery in Tompkinsville explained the vibrant blooms are scooped up by families looking to commemorate dearly departed relatives. They can be built into shines or adorn altars marked with candles.
Cristal Mejia of Yolpaqui Taqueria hails from the Mexican state of Puebla. She explained the marigolds ultimately end up on ofrendas, altars to salute the dead. A shrine also can include photos, candles, decorations like sugar skulls plus favorite foods of the deceased like candy or beer.
She said marigold ice cream is popular at this time of year.
“I haven’t found it yet on Staten Island but it is something you see in Cholula and Atlixco. They sell ice cream, atole and frappes in that flavor. It’s really delicious,” Mejia shared.
As history has it, the Dios de Los Muertos tradition comes from Aztec rituals associated with the goddess Mictecacihuatl. She was Lady of the Dead, a gatekeeper for spirits traveling to and from beyond to speak with earthbound family. As the Roman Catholic faith spread when the Spaniards conquered Mexico, the concept eventually mingled with the Nov. 1 Holy Day of obligation, All Saints Day.
Pamela Silvestri is Advance Food Editor. She can be reached at [email protected].