Día de los Muertos Altar
When we think of death or about relatives who have passed, our automatic reaction is to often be sad and/or to avoid the topic all together. It's understandable to feel down when talking about a deceased loved one but many Hispanic cultures take the opposite approach. Every year on November 1 & 2, known as "Día de los Muertos" or "Day of the Dead", families prepare an altar-like set up in their home or town with offerings or ofrendas for the deceased. The day is more of a time to celebrate the character qualities and personality of those who passed than to mourn. It is believed that the spirits come back to visit their living relatives and take time to enjoy their favorite earthly treasures, like tequila and tamales.
Instead of preparing for one of our own relatives, we decided to honor Frida Kahlo, the famous Mexican painter known for her self portraits. Photos of the deceased are placed at the altar to help honor and remember their life.
Pan dulce, which means "sweet bread", is a classic Hispanic pastry often eaten for breakfast. We picked some up at a local panadería for our altar. Many people leave their favorite candy, like de La Rosa, as a sweet treat for their loved one. After the long journey, the spirits will definitely be hungry and need to refuel. Although they don't actually eat the food, the spirits remove all nutritional value from the offerings. It's also important to leave a bowl of water to cleanse themselves with. After all, who knows how long their travels took and what they encountered along the way.
Incense and candles are always seen at an altar. The spirits follow the aromatic smoke of burning incense and use the candles to guide themselves to their destination.
Look, we all seem to enjoy a drink or two and we're ususally craving one after a stressful roadtrip or flight. How do you think the spirits feel after WHO KNOWS how long without some libations? Tequila is a popular spirit (no pun intended) found throughout Mexico and is found at an altar.
Vast majority of Hispanics are Catholic and many families incorporate their religious beliefs into their Day of the Dead altar by placing a crucifix. All Saints Day, a Catholic holiday, actually coincides with Day of the Dead and many Mexicans view it as the same holiday.
Flowers, specifically marigolds, are placed around the altar so the spirits can find their way into the home. The vibrant colors and fragrant scent lure the spirits in and remind us how fragile life truly is.
Tamales are a staple in Hispanic culture and are often made during big holidays and celebrations, like Christmas, and Day of the Dead is no exception. Many families put out other traditional foods like mole and even pumpkin. However, if grandma hated tamales and preferred a greasy hamburger, then that is what you would leave out for her. The offerings don't always have to be traditional and can definitely be something more modern.
Even if you don't come from a Hispanic background, you can still celebrate the day. Honoring those who have passed and keeping their memory alive is a universal tribute we can all get behind.