By Perry Santanachote

Bright paper banners, flowers and candles are often associated with birthdays. On el Dia de los Muertos they are reserved for the dead.

But el Dia de los Muertos, also known as the Day of the Dead, is not a day of mourning. It’s a day of celebration.

The Mexican festival lasts two days actually, from November 1 to 2, when families and communities come together to commemorate the lives of their ancestors. They clean off the graves and build altars for their dearly departed.

Marigolds, which are considered the flowers of the dead, are sprinkled everywhere – along with candles, sugar skulls and colorful tissue flags called papel picado.

Of course no fiesta is complete without food. Round loaves of sugar-dusted bread called pan de muerto are shared with both the living and the dead, and the family cooks the deceased’s favorite food, which chef Ivy Stark of Dos Caminos says is inevitably molé.

Classic molé negro originates from central Mexico in the state of Oaxaca. It’s preparation is a laborious process, made up of more than 30 ingredients that take at least a day to roast and grind by hand — a job that’s traditionally shared among several generations of women in a family.

The dark, rich sauce comprised of four different chiles and chocolate is complex and difficult to make, which is why it’s often saved for special occasions, like Day of the Dead. Stark demonstrates how to make this recipe below.