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Honoring Life and Death with a Día de Muertos Altar

The Ofrenda de Día de los Muertos  is a ritual that commemorates the loved ones who have passed away. Offering is sharing with the deceased and dialoguing with their memory. 

By Les Xules

5 min read

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The Ofrenda de Día de los Muertos  is a ritual that commemorates the loved ones who have passed away. Offering is sharing with the deceased and dialoguing with their memory. This tradition represents a cultural mix, in which the indigenous people contributed with the copal, food and the cempasúchil flower (Zempoalxóchitl) - while the Spanish put some flowers, ceras, velas y veladoras.

The elements of the Ofrenda de Día de los Muertos are essential to receive the souls. If any of these are missing, the spiritual charm that surrounds this tradition is lost.


It is offered to the souls to quench their thirst after their long journey and to strengthen their return.


The element of purification that serves so that the body isn’t corrupted, in its round trip for the following year.


The Ofrenda uses candles in its different forms: velas, veladoras o ceras. The flame they produce means light, faith, hope. In the altar, each candle represents a deceased; the number of candles that the altar will have will depend on the souls that the family wants to receive.


The aromatic elements symbolize the purification of the soul, the ability to guide or attract the deceased to the offering. Traditionally the infusion of bay leaf, thyme, marjoram, rosemary and chamomile covered by a cactus create a scent that attracts the spirits to the earth.

Copal is an aromatic element that is used to cleanse the place of evil spirits so that the soul can enter your home without any danger.

Papel Picado

In pre-Hispanic offerings, the gods of the earth, rain, water, agriculture were represented through papel amate figures. This tradition has been replaced today by colorful pieces of papel picado that represent the deceased. The papel picado not only decorates the Ofrenda, but represents the air within it. This type of decoration has different colors that represent different meanings: orange represents mourning, purple represents the Catholic church, blue represents the drowned, red represents warriors or women who passed away during childbirth, green represents youth, white for children, yellow for the elderly, and black for the underworld.


The flowers represent a welcome to the deceased, they are a symbol of the festivity due to their colors and aromas. The species traditionally used for this celebration are: the cempasúchil flower (Zempoalxóchitl), the cloud, the velvet flower and the amaranth. These are placed in the Ofrenda, but in the same way it is customary to put petal paths that serve to guide the deceased from the holy field to the offering and vice versa.


As part of the four elements found in the offering, the earth is represented through seeds, fruits, spices - like corn and cocoa.

Food and Beverages

Food and drinks are placed in the Ofrenda so that the visiting spirits can enjoy the dishes they liked when they were alive. Traditionally, mole, pozole, tacos, tamales, pumpkin, tejocote, orange, mandarin, chocolate, alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, among others, are placed. In the same way, the Pan de Muerto is placed, which represents the Eucharist.


These skulls are made of sugar and serve to remind us that death is always among us.