While Jose Medina Camacho was growing up, a prime sign of fall was the ubiquitous pot of Calabaza en Tacha – candied pumpkin – on his mother’s, grandmothers’, or aunts’ stoves.
They would cook down slices of pumpkin in an unrefined sugar called piloncillo, along with cinnamon and vanilla, serving it hot with a glass of milk for the family to enjoy while chatting at the table.
The candied pumpkin treat is a tradition during Mexico’s Dia de los Muertos celebration, November 2 and 3, when people believe the veil between the living and dead lifts so they may briefly reunite.
Camacho and Jesus Mendez, co-owners of Adios cocktail bar in Birmingham, honor that memory with a special drink for Dia de Los Muertos, which coincides with the establishment’s first anniversary.
Called Pumpkin-Chata, it melds elements of Calabaza en Tacha and another refreshing Mexican drink, horchata. The cocktail is made with honeysuckle vodka, candied pumpkin syrup, oat milk, and sweetened condensed milk. It’s topped with fresh-grated nutmeg.
“To me, it’s a nostalgic taste of our culture around this time of year,” Camacho says.
Dia de los Muertos festivities are planned in several Mexican-themed bars and restaurants, as well as community gatherings around Alabama. Birmingham’s growing Dia de los Muertos festival, set this year for Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark, is in its 21st year. Day-of-the-dead assemblies are also planned in Decatur and Montgomery, while a few others are held the prior weekend.
They share common elements. People wear costumes or face paint evoking images of skeletons and corpses. Participants also honor the departed by creating altars, called ofrendas, featuring images of that person plus personal items to help lure the spirit.
“For my grandfather, who passed away eight or nine years ago, we bring him his favorite things,” Camacho says. “He loved to garden, so we bring a bunch of vegetables and flowers. And we bring him beers because he loved beer. You get to show your friends and family – ‘You didn’t get to meet my grandfather. This is who he was. These are some of the best memories I had with him.’”
Camacho and Mendez encourage Adios patrons to dress appropriately for the occasion, including face paint, and to bring their own ofrenda items. A DJ will play music Thursday, and a trinity of DJs are slated for Friday.
The other special drink of the dead at Adios is called the Super Buena. It’s a take on ponche, a tipple popular during Dia de los Muertos and the Christmas holiday. The Super Buena contains reposado (wood-aged) tequila, Bonal (a bitter aperitif), cold-pressed apple cider, brown sugar, and allspice. Ponche is traditionally served warm; Camacho’s version is frozen.
After Halloween, why not party with the dead for a few more days? Here are other fun events around Alabama for Dia de Los Muertos.
Birmingham (November 2-3)
4 p.m.-10 p.m.
Now in its 21st year, Dia de los Muertos in the Magic City originally was hosted at the Bare Hands Art Gallery but has expanded to Sloss Furnaces. Organizers call the fest “one of the most intricate Day of the Dead commemorations in the Southeast.”
Expect massive ofrendas, colorful costumes, a memorial roll call, arts and crafts vendors, and a procession with puppets. Patrons are encouraged to bring a personal remembrance or even create an ofrenda.
Food-truck fare includes street tacos and sweets. Scheduled performers are Premier de America Mariachi, Emilio Crixell & Border Soul, Danza Azteca Xochipilli, and Folkloric Dance San Francisco Xavier.
Tickets are $16.84 (including service fee) in advance, and $20 at the door. Children 12 and younger are admitted free.
Decatur (November 2)
5 p.m.-9 p.m.
The City of Decatur, Alabama Center for the Arts, Princess Theatre, and numerous civic and cultural organizations co-host this multi-faceted fest. There will be music, food trucks, and creative activities downtown on Second Avenue; a youth arts exhibit in the Visual Arts building; and a 7 p.m. screening at the Princess Theatre of the Disney animated movie, “Coco,” which has a Dia de los Muertos theme.
Participants are encouraged to bring ofrenda to place on a community altar. Performers include Comparsa Morelense De Alabama, which will perform a Chinelos dance, and musicians Banda Tierra DeChalma.
Admission is free.
Montgomery (November 4)
3 p.m.-7 p.m.
The capital city’s inaugural Dia de Los Muertos Community Market & Fiesta is set for the Hilltop Greenspace, 3 North Goldthwaite Street, with music, arts, food vendors, and community service group booths. Sponsors include Hilltop Public House, 1977 Books, The Sanctuary, and Technical Earth Recording. People can contribute to a remembrance altar in The Sanctuary, starting November 1. “Please join us in honoring deceased family, friends and loved ones with photos, flowers, and more,” organizers say.
Admission is free.