Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a colorful celebration that takes place in Mexico and in Mexican communities all around the world starting on October 31st and ending on November 2nd. A key element of this vibrant holiday is altar creation, known as ofrendas, which honor and welcome departed ancestors back to the living realm.
These altars are beautifully adorned with a variety of meaningful items that reflect the personality and tastes of the deceased person.
Are you ready to honor the spirits of your ancestors through an awe-inspiring Dia de los Muertos Altar?
Can you make a WOW Day of the Dead ofrenda in just a few short weeks? Or even days? The short answer is, yes, you can!
Get ready! Because this article will bring out the fun, creative side of you that really wants to honor (and play with!) your ancestors for a few days!
In a few short steps, you’ll be an altar making pro!
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How to Make a Dia de Los Muertos Altar that Stands Out!
Table of Contents
To make our Day of the Dead altar, or ofrenda, first we need to gather all of the key elements.
Dia de los Muertos Altar Table Runner
A fun and cheap way to create an amazing ofrenda is to add a simple table runner to your altar! This beautiful Day of the Dead Table Runner is covered in bright sugar skulls and is the perfect addition to your decoration must-haves!
You can also use this table runner for your day of the dead dinner feast! In which you honor the souls of your departed loved ones by making some of their favorite foods and setting a place for them at the table!
Sugar skulls are an iconic and integral part of Dia de los Muertos altars. These intricately decorated skull-shaped candies are not just visually stunning, but they also hold deep symbolic meaning in Mexican culture.
Each sugar skull is carefully crafted with vibrant icing designs and often personalized with the names of the deceased.
The use of sugar skulls during Dia de los Muertos is believed to represent the spirits of the departed loved ones. It is a way for families to honor and remember those who have passed away.
These colorful confections serve as a joyful and celebratory reminder of the lives and memories of the deceased.
If you nail your sugar skulls, you’ll have a Day of the Dead altar that shines! These are the funnest, best way to make your altar special!
To make your sugar skull, you’ll need a blender, sugar, meringue powder, and water. Blend until mixed. Then push your mixture into your Sugar Skull Mold.
Let dry and harden. Remove sugar skulls from mold onto a piece of cardboard with Non-Stick Parchment Paper (this roll is eco-friendly, non-bleached, and lasts forever!) over the top.
“Glue” the 2 halves of your skull together with white Royal Icing.
Then combine ultra-vibrant Food Colorings with royal icing into multiple bowls to color your sugar skulls! You can Pipe flowers, the names of the deceased, and symbols that hold special meaning onto your sugar skulls!
Dia de los Muertos altars are ALL about bright, vivid colors!
So really make these sugar skulls pop!
Papel picado, meaning “perforated paper” in Spanish, is a traditional Mexican craft that holds a significant presence during the vibrant Dia de los Muertos celebrations. This delicate and intricate paper art adds a touch of elegance and beauty to the altars dedicated to honoring and remembering the departed.
The art of papel picado involves intricately cutting designs into colorful tissue paper. Skilled artisans meticulously create elaborate patterns and motifs, using chisels, punches, or even simple scissors. These intricate designs are often inspired by Mexican culture, folklore, and religious symbols.
The papel picado can be seen adorning the altars, gravesites, and even public spaces during Dia de los Muertos. The perforated paper acts as a conduit for the spirits to move between the world of the living and the afterlife. As a gentle breeze passes through the intricate designs, it is believed that the spirits can follow the path created by the papel picado and be guided back to their loved ones.
The vibrant colors used in papel picado hold their own significance. The presence of vibrant reds symbolizes the blood and life force that flows through the living and the departed. Bright yellows symbolize the sun, representing hope, renewal, and the journey to the afterlife. Deep purples represent mourning and the spiritual connection between the living and the dead.
Papel picado not only adds visual appeal to the altars but also serves as a way to celebrate the deceased’s life and personality. The designs can incorporate images, symbols, or even the names of the departed loved ones. Papel picado becomes a personalized tribute, reflecting the unique qualities and memories of the deceased.
Pro-tip: You can buy Pre-Made Papel Picado Banners!
Marigold flowers, also known as cempasúchil or “Flor de Muertos” (Flower of the Dead), hold a central role in Dia de los Muertos celebrations and are considered a key element of altar decorations. These vibrant and fragrant blooms are believed to guide the spirits of the departed back to the world of the living during this sacred time.
In Mexican culture, marigolds are associated with death and have deep-rooted symbolism. Their bright golden and orange hues are said to represent the sun, which is seen as a source of life and energy. It is believed that the intense color of the marigolds helps to attract and guide the spirits, serving as a beacon to guide them on their journey.
The distinctive scent of marigolds is also significant in Dia de los Muertos. Traditionally, paths made of marigold petals are laid out to lead the spirits from cemeteries to the altars in homes or other gathering places. The strong fragrance is said to awaken the deceased, helping them find their way to the altar and encouraging their earthly reunion with their loved ones.
Marigolds are not only used in altar decorations but can also be found adorning gravesites during Dia de los Muertos. Family members and community members meticulously arrange marigold flowers, creating colorful paths and beautiful displays of floral tribute. The sight of these vibrant flowers brings a visual spectacle to the solemnity of the cemetery, infusing it with life, beauty, and remembrance.
If fresh marigolds are hard to come by in the fall where you live, you can buy Artificial Marigold Flowers and Garland!
Candles are another important component of an elaborate Day of the Dead ofrenda. They symbolize the light that guides the spirits back to the earthly realm.
Placing candles on the altar not only adds warmth and illumination but also represents the presence of the departed, allowing them to find their way and join in the celebrations.
Candles also expel negative energies and keep the ceremony happy and pure!
In Dia de los Muertos altar-making, it is customary to light a candle for each deceased family member or friend being remembered.
Personal Items and Photographs of the Deceased
Personal items and mementos play a crucial role in Dia de los Muertos altars, serving as a tangible connection between the living and the deceased. These cherished belongings hold sentimental value and serve as reminders of the loved ones who have passed away.
When creating an altar for Dia de los Muertos, it is customary to include personal items that were significant to the deceased person. These can range from photographs that capture special memories with friends and family to treasured possessions like jewelry or accessories that reflect the individual’s unique personality.
These personal items not only honor the deceased but also serve as a way to recall their presence and keep their memory alive. By including these mementos, families and community members ensure that the spirits of their loved ones are still part of the celebration and are able to participate in the festivities.
My personal fav altars have Colorful Hanging Framed Photos of the deceased!
Our Deceased Loved Ones Favorite Foods
In addition to personal belongings, Dia de los Muertos altars often incorporate favorite foods and beverages of the deceased.
This can include their preferred snacks, fruits, or traditional dishes that were enjoyed during their lifetime.
By placing these culinary delights on the altar, it is believed that the spirits can feast on the essence and aroma of the food, allowing them to partake in the festivities and share in the joy of the celebration!
This beautiful Dia de los Muertos Appetizer Plate is a great place to hold your loved ones favorite Mexican dishes!
Glass of Water
The glass of water holds a deep significance in Dia de los Muertos celebrations. It is believed that after a long journey from the spirit world to the realm of the living, the spirits arrive thirsty and in need of refreshment.
By placing a glass of water on the altar, we provide nourishment and quench their thirst!
Water is also considered to have purifying properties, transforming and cleansing any negative energy that may accompany the spirits! (Don’t bring no negative vibes with you Uncle Jose! LOL!)
It also symbolizes the renewal of life and the purging of impurities, helping to create a peaceful and harmonious reunion between the two realms.
I love this mug for placing water on your Dia de los Muertos altar!
Salt, symbolizing purification, is believed to cleanse and protect the spirits from any negative energy they may have encountered during their travels.
You can set the salt out in small dishes or lay it out in the pattern of a cross for further protection for deceased souls traveling to the realm of the living for the fiesta!
These Sugar Skull Salt and Pepper Shakers are also just sooo adorable!!!
Bottles of Tequila
Bottles of tequila, a beloved Mexican spirit, also hold a special place on Dia de los Muertos altars. Tequila represents celebration and a joyful remembrance of the departed.
It is common to find Shot Glasses alongside the tequila bottles, inviting the spirits to partake in a toast and share in the festivities.
While some may view alcohol as a means to forget one’s sorrows, in Dia de los Muertos, it is seen as a way to celebrate the lives and memories of loved ones, through the shared enjoyment of a drink!
Directions for Your Dia de los Muertos Altar
Altars are typically positioned in the cardinal directions, with each direction holding a specific meaning. For example, the east represents birth and a new beginning, while the west signifies the land of the dead. This careful arrangement creates a sense of balance and harmony between life and death.
In addition to personal altars created by families, there are also community altars that serve as a gathering place for all to participate in the celebration.
These altars are often found in parks, community centers, or other public areas, and often let the community add their own offerings and remembrances!
Dia de los Muertos altars are a beautiful and symbolic tradition that has been passed down through generations in Mexican culture.
They provide a space for families and communities to reconnect with their deceased loved ones and celebrate their lives.
Whether it is in Mexico City, San Diego, or anywhere else in the world, the commitment to honoring ancestors and celebrating the cycle of life and death remains a vital part of this longstanding tradition.