The essential elements in building an authentic Day of the Dead altar

As every year, and according to the belief, the Mexican people prepare altars dedicated to their friends and relatives who have passed. The altars service the purpose of receiving the dead with a banquet of their favorite foods, drinks, candles, and flowers. Any reunion is a great celebration.

According to the Federal Ministry of Culture, the altars and their offerings are a colorful ritual where the dead are represented by the gifts offered. Any Day of the Dead Day offering isn’t complete without the bread, salt, fruits, culinary delicacies, the water, of course to welcome back the adults, a little wine is appreciated after such a long trip.

These altars are a sample of the cultural mix where the Europeans added some flowers and candles; the natives added the incense with their copal, the food, and the cempasúchil flower.

The altar can be adorned with paper, silk, and satin fabrics and clay figures, clean clothes also wait to receive the souls.

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But there are other elements that are indispensable in the altars to receive the souls, such as water, considered as a representation of the source of life. It is offered to souls to quench their thirst after their long journey and to strengthen their return. In some cultures symbolizes the purity of the soul.


The element of purification, serves so that the body does not become corrupted, on its round trip for the following year.


To give light to the souls, candles are required. The ancient Mexicans used ocher rajas. The flame they produce means, in addition to light, faith and hope; and it serves as a guide so that the souls can reach their old places and light the return to their abode.

In several indigenous communities each candle represents a deceased, that is, the number of candles that the altar will have will depend on the souls that the family wants to receive. If the candles or candlesticks are purple, it is a sign of mourning; and if four of these are placed on a cross, they represent the four cardinal points, so that the anima can be oriented until they find their way and their house.

Aromatic Flowers

The Day of the Dead season is not only framed by the colorful orange flowers, but also by the characteristic aroma of copal and incense. The copal was offered by the natives to their gods since the incense was not yet known, this arrived with the Spaniards.

In addition, it is used to clean the place of evil spirits and thus the soul can enter your house without any danger.

The flowers, mainly cempasúchil, are symbols of the festivity for their colors and aromatic stelae. They adorn and aromatize the place during the stay of the soul, which when leaving will please the spirits that have returned to their family. The white flowers cannot be forgotten, because its white color means purity and tenderness, and accompany the souls of the children.

In many places of the country, it is customary to put paths of petals that serve to guide the deceased from the cemetery to the offering and vice versa. The yellow flower of the leafless cempasuchil is the path of color and smell traced by the routes to the souls.

The ‘Mat’

One more element, but which is no longer used in large cities, but not in communities, is the mat. Among the multiple uses of the mat is a bed, table or shroud. On this particular day it works so that the souls rest as well as the tablecloth to place the food of the offering.


What should not be missing in the altars for children is the izcuintle, the puppy toy, so that the souls of the little ones feel happy when they arrive at the banquet. The izcuintle puppy is the one that helps the souls to cross the plentiful Chiconauhuapan river, which is the last step to reach the Mictlán.


Made in different ways, bread is one of the most precious elements on the altar. The majority is known as puff pastry and this represents the skull and bones. Its shape is round as is the cycle of life and death. Known as Pad de Muerto, or Bread of the Dead.


Other objects to remember and offer to the deceased are the portrait, to remember the soul that will visit us; but this must be hidden, so that it can only be seen with a mirror, to make it clear that the loved one can be seen, but it no longer exists.

Other images of saints can be placed, so that they serve as a means of interrelation between the dead and the living.


Sharing food, such as apples, which represents blood, and kindness through the pumpkin in tacha candy.

The mole with chicken is the favorite dish that many natives of the country put on the altar, although they also add barbecue with everything and consommé. The banquet of the kitchen is in honor of the remembered.

You can include hot chocolate. The pre-Hispanic tradition says that the guests drank chocolate prepared with the water used by the deceased to bathe, so that the visitors were imbued with the essence of the deceased.

Sugar Skulls

Medium sugar skulls are an allusion to death always present. The small skulls are dedicated to the Holy Trinity and the great one to the Eternal Father.

Other elements are the liquor is to remind you of the great pleasant events during your life and encourage you to return and relive those moments for the night. A large cross of ash, serves so that when the soul reaches the altar they can confess their faults.

For children

The souls of children are given alfeñique sweets and pasta made with sugar; animal figures, little baskets with flowers, shoes, and coffins. Elsewhere, altars are adorned with little clay toys painted in bright colors; so when the souls of the deceased arrive “little ones” can play as they did in life.

Puerto Vallarta News

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