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Día de Los Muertos: 13 Essentials To Build Your Own Altar

El Dia del Los Muertos is a special holiday for a lot of people in the Latinx community—Mexican and Central Americans especially. The multi-day holiday which is celebrated over three days in Mexico (and other Latin American countries) takes place on October 31 (All Hallows Eve), November 1 (All Saints Day), and November 2 (All Souls Day). Altars are made by children on the 31st to invite the spirits of dead children (angelitos) to come back to visit their families on earth. The adult spirits visit on the All Souls Day and on the last day families attend cemeteries to decorate the graves and tombs of their ancestors.

A major part of the Dia de los Muertos celebration, which originated in ancient Mesoamerica, is the altar, or ofrenda (offering). It usually contains three levels—for Heaven, Earth, and the underworld and represents the four elements earth, wind, fire, and water. These several elements welcome, celebrate, and pay homage to the dead. Learn about 13 items you will see in practically every Dia de los Muertos altar.


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Do you set up a #DayoftheDead altar or ofrenda in your house? 💀🌼💜 Once we move into our new home I’d like to build a more intricate one, but until then we will use what we have and I want to encourage you to do the same. ✨ If you don’t have an altar tradition, it really is a beautiful way to celebrate the lives of those who have passed before us. 🥀 On the blog today I’ve gathered 10 essentials from some of my favorite shops like @artelexia, @lolasmercadito, & @zinniafolkarts to make a simple altar. But the time to order is now so you will have everything by November 1. 📬💌 Check it out here: http://www.holajalapeno.com/2018/10/day-of-the-dead-altar-ideas.html . . . #ofrenda #diadelosmuertos #dayofthedeadart #diadelosmuertosaltar #hugthemoment #flashesofdelight #welivetoparty #welovetoparty #celebrateinstyle #partytime #celebrate #liveauthentic #foodbeast #eeeeeats #eatfamous #feedfeed #dailyfoodfeed #exploremore #bhgcelebrate

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The Dia de los Muertos altars wouldn’t be the same without photos of loved ones who have crossed over to the other side. Some altars have a few pictures, while others feature generations of family members, pets, and celebrities.

Crosses, La Virgen, and Photos of Saints

When the Spanish colonized Mexico, they added their Catholic influence to the originally Aztec Dia de los Muertos. Because of this, most ofrendas feature a cross, La Virgen de Guadalupe, and may include photos of preferred saints. The crosses are usually white, and made from ashes and/or salt, or of candles. The cross represents the four cardinal directions, a guide for spirits.


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Old Town San Diego State Historic Park will be the scene for Día de los Muertos! This year the festivities will begin Nov. 1st and extend through the weekend ending Sunday, Nov. 4th. We’ll be celebrating in style with professional face painters on hand, art demonstrations, live entertainment, both traditional and contemporary altars on display, and a host of vibrant Catrinas holding court throughout Fiesta de Reyes and Old Town San Diego State Historic Park. This year join us for our first ever Dia de los Muertos Parade in the state park. The parade will kick off at 5 pm on Saturday, Nov 3rd. For more information and a complete schedule of events, visit www.fiestadereyes.com/ddlm. . . . #diadelosmuertos #diadelosmuertosmakeup #diadelosmuertosaltar #dayofthedead #dayofthedeadmakeup #oldtownsandiego #visitsd #fiestadereyes #barrabarrasaloon

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A Dia de los Muertos altar usually includes an arch, made of sugar cane stalks (but it can be made with other materials, such as flowers). The arch itself represents the passage between life and death.


Flowers are a major part of Dia de los Muertos celebrations. As part of the ofrenda, cempasuchitl/marigold flowers are used a lot. Also known as “flowers of the dead,” it is believed that the vibrant orange color and fragrance of these blooms will lead the spirits home to their altar.


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Thank you for all your support ! Enjoy the DDLMModesto 2018 pictures ! 📸Domenica Escatel #diadelosmuertos #diadelosmuertosmakeup #diadelosmuertostattoo #diadelosmuertosaltar #diadelosmuertosart #diadelosmuertosfestival #diadelosmuertoscookies #diadelosmuertoswedding #diadelosmuertoscostume #diadelosmuertosjewelry #diadelosmuertostattoos #diadelosmuertoscake #diadelosmuertosparty #diadelosmuertosmexico #diadelosmuertosminiquiltswap #diadelosmuertosarte #diadelosmuertosnails #diadelosmuertostheme #diadelosmuertosskull #diadelosmuertos2018 #diadelosmuertosdecor #diadelosmuertosswap #diadelosmuertos💀 #diadelosmuertosoaxaca #diadelosmuertosfacepaint #diadelosmuertospatron #diadelosmuertosearrings #diadelosmuertos2018 #diadelosmuertosmodesto

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Calaveras are probably the most recognized of all the Day of the Dead symbols. You will see skulls of all kinds (including sugar skulls and those made from clay) decorating an ofrenda, reminding everyone of life and death. Smaller sugar skulls are used to memorialize children who have passed (known as Los Angelitos, they are celebrated on November 1), while larger sugar skulls represent adults (celebrated on November 2).

Favorite Items of Departed Loved Ones


Although most altars or ofrendas for Day of the Dead have a lot of the same elements, it’s the items unique to each person (or people) that make each so special. Ofrendas feature personal belongings of the deceased, as well as food and drinks that they liked to consume.

Fruit Punch or Water and Alcohol


It’s a long journey from one side of life to the other and back. Water, which of course stands for the water element represented in the altars, as well as fruit punch, is provided for tired spirits who need to replenish. Fruit punch is also offered or alcohol for a stronger way to unwind.

Pan de Muerto

Pan de muerto is an essential element to any Dia de lof Muertos ofrenda. Each part of the bread symbolizes something. The circular shape represents the cycle of life and death; the center bump represents the cranium; and four diagonal incisions stand for tears shed, bones, and the four cardinal points.


Candles are abundant in a Day of the Day altar. They represent the fire element, and are at times, used to make a cross. The candles light the way home for spirits, and represent light, hope, and faith.

Dogs and Monarch Butterflies

You will see dogs and/or monarch butterflies in Dia de los Muertos celebrations. The Xoloitzcuintl, or Mexican hairless dog, is the particular breed that is considered by the Aztec and Maya to be a guide in the afterlife. Butterflies are believed to be spirits of departed loved ones. Monarch butterflies, in particular, migrate to Mexico each year at the time of Dia de los Muertos, so it’s fitting that they appear in the festivities.


Food is such an important part of Latinx life, so it makes sense that it is also a big part of Latinx death. Fruit, nuts, pumpkin seeds, salt, comida tipica (including tamales and hot chocolate), and the favorite food of the departed are laid out for them to feast on. Pan de muerto, and candies for children on the other side are also laid out.


Copal is a tree resin used to make incense. In Dia de los Muertos festivities, it is burned to purify the air and guide spirits home.

Papel picado

Papel picado is part of the technicolor decor that you see during Day of the Dead. In addition to adding bright pops of color and a touch of Mexican culture, the paper symbolizes the wind element.