Day of the Dead Altar (Ofrenda de Día de Muertos)
What and When is Day of the Dead?
Originating in México and recognized throughout Latin America, Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a holiday full of tradition and vibrant color, celebrating both life and death. Every year on November 1 and 2, people remember loved ones who’ve passed. It’s also important to note that it’s not a “Mexican Halloween”, it just happens to be recognized near Halloween.
What is a Day of the Dead Altar (Ofrenda)?
It’s the centerpiece of the holiday, built in homes, schools and cemeteries. Families create Day of the Dead altars or offerings to remember and welcome the spirits of loved ones who’ve passed.
How is a Day of the Dead Altar Made?
It can be as simple or elaborate as the individual or family creating it would like it to be. Altars are typically filled with bright colors, photographs, symbolic or personal objects, and the favorite foods and drinks of the loved one being honored.
What’s Included in a Day of the Dead Altar?
Families can choose whatever objects they feel are special to and represent the person who has passed. Here are some of the most common ones:
- Skulls (Calaveras)
Symbolizing the person being honored, sugar skulls are one of the most widely recognized elements of Día de los Muertos. They’re made of sugar (to symbolize the sweetness of life), meringue powder and water, then decorated with bright colors.
- Marigolds & Incense
The scent of fresh marigolds and burning incense is intended to attract the spirit of the departed loved one. The incense is also thought to purify the energy around the altar.
Photos of the departed are often included to encourage them to join in the celebration.
- Food & Drinks
The departed’s favorites are typically placed on the altar. A few other common items include pan de muerto (bread of the dead), tamales, atole (porridge made from corn flour), fresh fruit, pulque (a sweet, fermented beverage) and hot chocolate.
- Salt & Water
Salt is shaped into a cross to purify the soul, and water is added to the altar to quench the thirst of the spirit after their journey.
- Crosses & Candles
The cross is a symbol of forgiveness, and candles light the spirit’s path to the altar.
- Papel Picado (Perforated Paper)
Intricate, decorative cuts are made in colorful tissue paper. The holes represent paths for the spirit to travel through, and the delicate paper represents the fragility of life.
Are you thinking of honoring a loved one this Day of the Dead? Explore lots of delicious food, recipes and more to create a vibrant and memorable altar.