In Mexico, families await their deceased in November to welcome them with food and drinks they enjoyed in the past. In this way, death is given a certain flavor of hope, since for them it's worthwhile to return to the world of the living at least once a year. The altar is the center of this celebration, and its elements are a mixture of pre-Hispanic and Catholic traditions that merge to celebrate death. Generally, the altars are two, three, or even seven levels high! In all cases, the lower levels represent the earth/underworld, and the upper levels represent the heavenly dimensions. There are many symbolic elements and meanings to building an altar for your deceased loved ones. Get to know the anatomy of the exuberant offerings we make in memory of them.
How to make a Day of the Dead altar?
The Day of the Dead altar is composed of several basic elements whose value has made them an integral part of the celebration. The souls are believed to return to enjoy the dishes, to taste the fruit, and to contemplate the cempasúchil flower as part of this ceremony.
In this way, the living and the dead can coexist in a dimension. The offerings are placed on a table with two levels that symbolize heaven and earth. In the case of three, purgatory is added. The largest consists of seven levels and represents the steps to eternal rest.
Here are a few elements you can't miss on your altar de Muertos: 💀🕯️✨
Pan de Muerto - Represents the generosity of the host or the gift of the land itself.
Papel Picado - Represents the union between life and death.
Favorite Food Dishes - A selection of the deceased's favorite dishes is served.
Sugar Skulls - Made of sugar or chocolate, each skull represents the deceased you are honoring.
Candles - Symbol of love that guides souls to the altar.
Photographs - For the deceased's soul to be freed.
Cempasúchil Flowers - The flowers guide the path of the souls to the offerings.
Glass of Water - Quenches the thirst of souls and strengthens them for their return
Cross - For their pending sins to be expiated.
For the visual learners (just like us), we included a graphic:
Image Source: #WeAllGrow Latina & Muy Bueno Cooking
Did you know about the representation of natural elements on the altar? Let us explain!
The wind is represented by papel picado, which regularly includes designs based on the work of José Guadalupe Posada. A glass of water serves to quench the thirst of the spirit. The fire is represented with candles and the earth, with seeds and fruits.
Copal was considered a sacred essence in pre-Hispanic cultures and is usually an essential element in the altar. Other aromas present are: cempasúchil flowers, herbal infusions such as laurel, thyme and rosemary.
They must be to the liking of the deceased, who can only enjoy them once a year. Traditionally, typical dishes such as mole and tamales are present. The skulls made of sugar, chocolate or amaranth represent that death can be sweet. The bread of the dead is a modern element of the altars. Alcoholic beverages that the deceased enjoyed such as beer, tequila or pulque are also placed.
At the bottom, belongings of the deceased are usually placed, especially if they were loved and appreciated objects. It is also customary to place a photograph of the deceased in the central part of the altar.
What other items do you place on your altar? Let us know! 🧡