My First Day of the Dead Altar for My Abuelita

Vivi Day of the Dead

For Day of the Dead, Familia Kitchen invited one of our favorite Mexican cooks, Vivi Abeja to make a special Day of the Dead meal and altar in honor of her queridisima Abuelita.

This will be the first year that Vivi offers Dia de los Muertos ofrendas to her grandmother Elisa Abeja, who died this year at the age of 92. “It was very emotional for me,” says Vivi.

She and her Abuelita were extremely close, in and out of the kitchen. At times during her last years, Vivi moved into her grandmother’s home in Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood. She helped care and cook for her Abuelita. The two even set up a food stand on their sidewalk during the days of COVID, to sell traditional dishes from her her grandmother’s hometown, like uchepos, fresh-corn tamales.

Watch Vivi make her first Day of the Dead altar for her Abuelita, just like her grandmother taught her.

Elisa Abeja was born in Michoacan, Mexico and she came to Chicago with her husband and children more than 50 years ago with their eight children. The central pillars of her life were her family, faith and food,  which she took great care to make using the recipes from her homeland. Food and faith are why Elisa and her husband came to the States. Vivi’s grandfather told her they moved to Chicago, where they had friends and a church community, ”because they never wanted to see their family starve like that. When you don’t grow up with a lot of food, it’s everything. As long as they had food on the table, the family was alright,” says Vivi.

In honor of her abuela, Vivi made three traditional Mexican delicacies long associated with Day of the Dead: calabaza en tacha or pumpkin boiled in sugar syrup, fried-tortilla buñuelos sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon, and champurrado or chocolate atole to warm the belly and soul.

Vivi Day of the Dead
Vivi’s altar has flowers, candles, photos, letters, and traditional ofrendas.

Vivi also crafted an altar with photos, flowers, totems and servings of these traditional dishes and drinks.

”The pieces of cloth that I’m using in my altar belonged to my abuelita and they were the cloths she used for her altars throughout the years,” says Vivi. ”She walked me through making her very last altar last year and how to be intentional with making an altar so this year is very emotional for me.”

”This isn’t my final altar,” she adds. ”I will be adding more to it as the days get closer to the actual Día de los Muertos.

See how Vivi carefully constructs a beautiful celebration of her grandmother’s life, piece by piece, photo by photo, with sweet servings of some of Abuelita’s favorite recipes.

Vivi and Elisa Abeja
Vivi Abeja, right, with her Abuelita Elisa, who she is honoring with a Day of the Dead feast this November 1 and 2.

Find Vivi’s 3 Day of the Dead Recipes for Her Abuelita Here

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