The origins of the pumpkin (subspecies Cucurbita pepo) go back at least 7,500 years to the highlands of Oaxaca (*1) where pumpkin continues to be served in quesadillas, tlayudas, mole, and more. Once they made it to North America, Irish immigrants transformed the pumpkin into he familiar jack-o-lantern we see today.
Red, white, blue, and yellow corn all originated from a grass called "teosintle" (*2) which was first domesticated in southern Mexico about 9,000 years ago. Central to many indigenous religions, maize was considered a sacred food and images can be seen carved in stones across the Americas.
PAN DE MUERTO
A popular brioche-like bread used to decorate altars for Dia de Muertos, pan de muerto was originally used in ceremonies honoring the dead. The Spanish and French are credited with turning the once amaranth-flour bread into a wheat bun with a sugary top that we're familiar with today. Aztec symbolism remains, however, and can be seen in the center ball of the bread representing the skull along with four "bones" extending into teardrops. (*3)
From the nahuatl word "xocolatl", chocolate was originally a hot, bitter drink often mixed with chili and corn meal – not unlike the champurrado still enjoyed today. The one key difference being the Spanish import of sugar. Once Europeans began to mix sugar and the chocolate beverage of Mexico, the modern hot chocolate was created. (*4)
Images of skulls can be found in almost every mesoamerican community, thousand of years before the arrival of Europeans. For them, the skull represented the concept of "transformation" and the transition between life and death, a natural fit for the original Dia de Muertos celebrations that honored those who have passed. 17th century Italian missionaries introduced sugar art to the New World, offering a cheap and easy solution to creating decoration for the family altars. (*5)
This popular Latin American legend has made its way as a staple of Halloween monsters in recent years. La Llorona is used as a cautionary tale for children who wander off in the dark, warning that the ghost of "La Llorona" will steal them away. The legend has existed well before the 1500s and many details vary, though the parts that remain the same include: wailing, a white dress, and she exists wherever there is a body of water. (*6)
Despite almost being the national bird of the United States, the turkey's origins go deep into the jungles of pre-hispanic Mexico.(*7 ) Domesticated around 800 BC, the turkey would go on as one of the New World's staple domestic food sources. Trade between indigenous communities would later bring the domestic turkey through all of North America where it became the ideal food source during the harvest and eventually, a Thanksgiving tradition.