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A Dia de los Muertos Mezcal dinner for 2020

We have lost so much in 2020 that turning our heads to a Dia de los Muertos celebration feels simultaneously perfect and impossible. We are just at the beginning of our grief and trying to even wrap our heads around the loss of family and friends to Covid-19, to businesses, to the very things that defined a normal life. We still have no idea what is in store for us so how can we possible take a moment to celebrate, for Dia de los Muertos is exactly that, a celebration.

Because make no mistake, Dia de los Muertos is a celebration, and by honoring death, it also re-affirms life. It is colorful and loud and chaotic, delicious and full of music and dancing and parades and people pay homage to deceased family members. If you had one night to entice their souls to return, wouldn’t you go all out to make it fun? Ofrendas, or altars, are filled with flowers and photos, favorite foods and drinks, memorabilia of what the deceased loved most in life. Graves are decorated and vigils are held with story telling and music – it is so glorious in how it bridges the gap between two worlds and reminds us that while death is sad, it is not final.

Dia de los Muertos at its heart can be seen as the embodiment of survival. Based on an indigenous belief in Aztec, Tolmec and Nahuatl culture that death is not to be mourned because it is part of the continuum of life, it was absorbed into the Catholic calendar across Mexico and Central America, surviving all attempts to stomp out indigenous beliefs, and is timed with the fall harvest of the sacred maiz. What we associate today with Dia de los Muertos, the elegant skeletal Catrina characters, are in fact a very modern addition, born from Mexican cartoonist José Guadalupe Posada as social commentary in the early 20th century. Garbed in Euro-centric dress so emulated in Mexico at the time, to signify that underneath our trappings, we are all the same.

It is a delicate balance between appreciation and appropriation, and we put thought into each element for the dinner. The menu was carefully crafted by Chef Luis Lagos of The Midway, and is both modern and traditional. Our Mexican Pop Up Bar will be serving a welcome cocktail with a very modern twist on the classic champurrado, a warm and thick drink made from masa and chocolate, creating the deep corn flavor from Nixta corn licor, Abasolo Corn Whisky and layering the flavor with Ilegal Mezcal and Mexican chocolate. Each of the dinner courses will be paired with mezcal from Don Amado, Del Maguey and Mezcal Vago, who this year lost their patriarch mezcal maker Don Aquilino Garcia Lopez. And we will be building an ofrenda in collaboration with SF based Oaxacan artist Jhovany Rodriguez and Del Maguey. Its theme is Lost and Found and we are asking guests to contribute with an item of their own so that we may share our collective grief and joy. We’ll also have music, and maybe even some dancing, and plenty of mezcal.

We will once again be dining on the outside patio at The Midway, with all of the social distance protocols strictly in place. Tickets for the dinner can be purchased here.

Susan Coss is the Co-founder of Mezcalistas. She is a long time business, marketing and communications strategist in the sustainable food and beverage worlds. Over the past 15 years, Susan's work has focused on promoting the connection between land, farmers and food and beverage crafters.

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