Day of the Dead, or Dia De Los Muertes, celebrates the circle of life and teaches us not to fear death, but to embrace it as the next part of our journey.
It is said that during this time of the year, the barrier between the world of the spirits and the material world that we live in is thin, causing spirits to miss their families and the life they left behind, making them more present in our world. Honoring lost loved ones is a way of acknowledging their presence and guidance in our lives, despite them not being physically with us.
Traditionally, families visit the gravesites of their lost loved ones and pull weeds, remove debris and decorate the grave with candles, flowers and food offerings. The family also visits for a few hours, enjoys a meal and share favorite memories of the loved one. It is a true celebration of the physical life that has passed as well as the spiritual life that continues to exist of their loved one.
For many of us, the gravesites of our loved ones may not be accessible to enjoy such a meaningful day. Creating day of the dead altars allows us to participate in this beautiful tradition wherever we may be. As with any sacred space we create, all items placed on the Dia de los Muertes altar must be intentional.
Find a space in your home that you can build your Dia de los Muertes altar space. Find a table or other piece of furniture you can use as your physical altar that you can add your offerings to.
Include a framed photo of your loved one and place it in the center of the altar. This dedicates the altar space to that person. If you have more than one person you are honoring, you can either make separate altars or dedicate different areas of a larger altar to each person.
Include any jewelry, letters or other sentimental items from your loved ones on the altar. This is a space to honor the physical life of your loved one and those sentimental items will hold the energy of their life’s accomplishments.
Altars usually include a food offering to your loved ones consisting of their favorite foods and drinks. Of course the spirits don’t actually eat the food, but the absorb the energy of the food which nourishes their spirit. It is best to leave any other treats they may have loved when they were alive such as tobacco, tea or chocolate.
Copal incense is most commonly offered on day of the dead altars in Mexico. It is said to guide the spirits to their altars.
The spirits have traveled a long way to their altar, so offering water symbolically quenches their thirst.
Sugar Skulls: These decorated skull candies are given as offerings and to friends and family as a reminder of the vitality of life and individual personality.
Add marigold flowers to the altar. The bright colors and vibrant scent are believed to attract the spirits back to their altar.
When we honor our loved ones in such a way, we begin to feel their presence with us and find comfort in their presence. You can keep your altar up year round, create one when you are grieving a recent loss or take it down after a few days. The choice is among you and your loved ones and what feels right.