Every year starting midnight on October 31st, through November 2nd, Latinos celebrate el Día de los Muertos. It is a tradition where people come together to remember and reflect on loved ones that have passed. One of the practices of the tradition, include building an ofrenda, or an altar that displays pictures of family members, friends, or important figures that have died. The idea of the Day of the Dead, is that the door that separates the world of the living and the world of the dead is opened. Spirits of those that have passed then have the capability to visit the place of their living family. To entice the spirits to visit, the ofrenda is decorated with fragrant flowers, favorite foods of the deceased, and brightly colored decorations.
Ofrendas have levels, or steps, to depict purgatory, earth, and heaven, or the Holy Trinity. Some Altars can have up to seven steps! But despite the size, all ofrendas must include:
1. Picture of a virgin or saint.
2. Candles and lights, which represent guides to help souls escape from purgatory.
3. Toys and salt figurines, particularly for the children, 4. Pan de Muerto (the bread of the dead) and sugar skulls.
5. Favorite food and drinks of the deceased (ex: mezcal or tequila).
6. Photos of the deceased.
7. Marigold flowers, cut paper and crosses made from seeds or salt.
Sugar skulls are placed on the table to represent death and the sweetness of life. They sometimes even have the names of those past written on their foreheads.
Bright decorations, or personal belongings decorate the ofrenda to entice the spirits of loved ones to come visit.
All ofrendas must also include representations of the elements of air, water, fire, and earth. An altar with two steps represents the earth and sky. Water is represented by Holy Water, which is also used to cleanse the space and the altar. Fire is represented by ashes or incense, and the burning of sage to ward off bad spirits.
Holy water and sage are used to cleanse the space to ward off bad spirits.