Day of the Dead preparations have begun: papel picado, pan de muerto, and candy skulls are everywhere. But mainly, there’s one element that cannot be missed on this day: cempasuchil flowers.
The name comes from the náhuatl cempoal, that means 20 and Xochitll that means flower: 20 petals flower. It is also known as the dead’s flower and has up to 60 varieties. Although they are not all produced in Mexico, but about 35 of them are. There are some with bigger flowers, some with smaller ones, some yellow and other with orange tones. But what’s very characteristic of these flowers is their intense color and their particular smell. It is believed that they leave a trace for the dead to find their way to the altar that their loved ones put up for them on the nights from October 31 to November 2.
You missed out? “Day of the Dead, All Saints or All Soul’s Day?”
Cempasuchil, the flower is born from love
There is a legend about this flower’s origin, have you heard of it? It narrates a love story between Xochitl and Huitzilin, who climbed up god’s Tonatiuh mountain, father of the sun, to bring him flowers and make a promise of eternal love. When the war started, they split up, and later on Xóchitl found out his loved one had died.
She climbed up the mountain to ask Tonatiuh to take her with Huitzilin, and due to the good altars they had made before, he accepted the petition. He then touched Xóchitl with one of his lightings and transformed her into a glowing cempasúchil flower. His loved one, reincarnated as a hummingbird, and that’s how their love continued after death.
This is why this flower is a symbol of life and death.
In addition of being light for the dead, the flower has been used since ancient times as a medicinal product. It is recommended for any kind of ache, from stomachaches to parasites and cramps. Now a days we may even find it on drinks like pulque or beer, on food like creams, soups or desserts like jello and popsicles. Would you try them?
The main producer: Xochimilco
This flower is abundant in Coahuila, San Luis Potosi, Morelos, Guerrero, Oaxaca, Puebla and Mexico City. Specifically in Xochimilco, Tlahuac and Milpa Alta. All these regions have the best weather conditions for the flower to grow: humidity and warmth.
Madreselva, Nativitas, Cuemanco, Acuexcomatl and all the plant markets are covered in orange and yellow colors these days. As the Day of the Dead approaches, demand increases and people may buy from only one flower, or up to spending all they have in their wallets. Only last year’s harvest was over a million flowers and despite their demand, the prices have been pretty stable, you can buy one as cheap as 10 pesos.
Families that produce these flowers start their harvest since May because the flowers take approximately two months to grow. By November, they are ready to decorate and light up the graveyards or backyards in every house, to warmly welcome those who have left this world.
Cempasuchil flowers are a symbol of Day of the Dead and they give us, as Mexicans, identity. They embrace the sun’s warmth and color in their petals, light up the dead’s way back to the living world and bring back the memory of the lost ones.
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