The food and drinks you see on graves and tombstones aren’t leftovers from a picnic. Like fresh flowers and lighted candles offered by families and friends when they pay their respects to their dead, laying food and drinks on graves is a form of venerating those who have gone before us.
When did this tradition start? And what happens to the food after relatives leave the cemetery? Here are some fascinating facts:
Food offering has been done since time immemorial.
Aztecs supposedly presented their dead with food and water to help them along in their journey from this earthly plane. For ancient Egyptians, food was essential to the dead because without it, they would “starve to death” in the afterlife. In olden times, Greeks poured wine mixed with blood, honey, and water on tombstones, believing it would seep through the soil and reach the dearly departed.
It’s a common practice among Asian countries.
Cambodia, India, Korea, China, and the Philippines are just some of the countries where the tradition of placing food and drinks on the graves of loved ones is observed. While some do it to appease evil spirits, others do it as a way of showing that those who are gone are not forgotten. “Even death cannot cut off family ties in the Philippines,” said Monsignor Esteban Binghay in a 2014 story that appeared in the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
Mexico celebrates All Souls’ Day with *lots* of sweets.
For Catholics, All Souls’ Day on November 2 is a somber occasion, a time to reflect on the lives of loved ones who are no longer with us. For Mexicans, however, Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is a day of celebration, as the dearly departed “come to life” through happy stories and memories told by family and friends. Much like what is depicted in the multi-awarded animation film Coco, Mexicans celebrate this day by decking altars (ofrendas) with photos of the deceased and adorning them with colorful trimmings, treats, and fresh flowers and fruits. Two staples are Pan de Muertos (Bread of the Dead), a sweet baked good flavored with cinnamon and anise; and Calaveras, sugar skulls with brightly colored accents.
What happens to food offerings afterward?
There are two schools of thought: Some choose to burn or bury their food offerings in the ground, while others consume it––as they hate to see good food go to waste. However, before you take a bite of that delicious-looking offering, consider this statement from restaurateur Maria de Jesus Monterubbio: “It is believed that if you took a bite of any of the foods that are on the altar after Day of the Dead, the food has no flavor anymore because the spirit has already eaten it.”