During this time, altars are made to honor the deceased loved ones with special ofrendas (offerings). Some of the ofrendas include foods, flowers, fruit, candles, Day of the Dead bread, soda, and most important, holy water. The flowers need to be wild marigolds and bright red cockscomb that surround the altar. Since the angelitos come first, the altar should have little trinkets for them, possibly toys the used to play with, milk or some of their favorite things. For adults, you want to add their favorite foods, favorite drinks like beer or mezcal. You want the altar to have, if possibly, all their favorite things for these couple of days.
In my family, each lighted candle represents a deceased loved one. We include pictures of each person for when their spirit comes back. In most parts of Mexico, sugar skulls are put in the altar with the name of each person. We also pray a rosary each night and ask for their protection, wisdom, and good luck to be bestowed upon our family.
Altars are not limited to just certain objects, you can put anything of personal value to yourself or your loved ones because these couple of days are the only times that the spirit of your loved ones come back and reunite with your family. In most villages, the residents spend copious amounts of money in building the altars because of tradition and beliefs but most importantly it is part of our culture that we treasure the most.
In other parts of Mexico, people take upon cleaning cemeteries, getting together with the whole family to participate in activities like eating together and playing games, other times there are celebrations that include processions. This holiday is a time to really think of death from a different perspective; it’s nothing scary but something celebratory as seen through our altars, our art, and traditions that have stayed for hundreds of years.
Day of the Dead is something that is beautiful, we reminisce on the good times with those who have died and appreciate our traditions but also the gift of life and death through a different perspective.
-- Nancy Garzon