How to Make A Day of the Dead Altar

This year I have decided to follow the Mexican tradition and create my own altar for Día de Los Muertos or Day of the Dead.  In Mexico, Day of the Dead is a holiday where we celebrate life, and honor the loved ones that have passed away.  If you haven’t visited Mexico during this holiday, you might be surprised to see how festive the celebrations are!  There is lots of food, bright colors, and special decorations, but my favorite part of the celebrations are the altars we create for our deceased loved ones.  This year I will be creating an altar for the first time, and I wanted to share with you some things I learned about them, and tips how to create your own Day of the Dead altar.

Day Of The Dead

Day of the Dead altars are very personal and are typically devoted to family members or other loved ones.  However you can also find altars erected in memory of celebrities.  While certain elements are found in most altars, the most important thing is to make it create something personal and meaningful for yourself.

What you will need:
– Table or a tall surface
–  Tissue paper (papel picado) – Traditionally we use purple, white and pink, which symbolize pain, hope and celebration
–  2 boxes
– Black cloth – To cover the table and boxes
– Photograph of the honoree
– Pictures of saints
– Candles from beeswax or paraffin – You need at least 4
– Candy skulls and skeletons – You need at least 3
– Incense – In particular White Copel
– Food – Including Day Of The Dead Sweet Bread, Fruits, Tamales and other deceased favorites
– Water and/or other beverages
– Yellow Marigold flowers
– Salt in a small bowl/dish
– Other personal objects and belongings that represent the honoree

Creating Day of The Dead Altar:

  1. Cover the table or surface with tissue paper or black cloth.  Use papel picado to decorate the area behind the altar.
  2. Place 2 boxes, covered in tissue paper on the table. The important thing to note is that the altar needs to have 3 levels (that’s why we use 2 boxes).
  3. Place the photograph of the honoree on the altar’s highest tier  and also include the images of the chosen saints.
  4. Place objects that the person liked and/or their personal belongings on each tier of the altar.
  5. Decorate the altar with candles in different shapes and sizes, to light the way for the spirits.  4 candles should be placed on the top tier, to represent the 4 points of the compass.
  6. Add candy skulls and skeletons (Las Catrinas) to your decoration.  3 skulls on the second tier represent the holy trinity.
  7. Include traditional Day of The Dead sweet bread (Pan de Muertos).  Legend says this bread is eaten by the deceased when they come to visit their loved ones.   You can also add tamales and mole.  For children leave sweets and fruit.  The fruit, along with the deceased’s favorite food, symbolize the earth’s bounty.
  8. Include a glass of water, in case your loved ones are thirsty.  Besides water you can add any other beverage that your loved one liked.
  9. In a little dish or bowl add salt to season the food and for purification.
  10. Burn incense, especially white copel, to guide the dead to the altar.
  11. Adorn the altar with yellow marigolds (we call them cempasuchitl, flower of the dead) to represent life’s brevity.

 

At Capella Pedregal we will celebrate Día de Los Muertos with Pan de Muerto and Chan Luu’s Trunk Show.  Employees will also compete to create the most impressive altar.  I am excited to create my first altar this year!  Will you be creating yours?  Don’t hesitate to share it with me on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

 

If you need inspiration, visit my  Day of the Dead Pinterest board.

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