This Día de los Muertos, celebrate and honor loved ones with a beautiful and unique ofrenda.
Día de los Muertos is a vibrant Mexican holiday devoted to honoring those who have passed away. While remembering the dead can be very somber, this holiday is full of joy and love—it is ultimately a celebration of life. Some believe that the souls of the departed come back to the land of the living during the Days of the Dead (October 31st – November 2nd) to provide advice and comfort. To welcome the spirits back home, special altars are created and decorated in the spirits’ memory—these are called ofrendas (“offerings”) and they are an essential part of celebrating Día de los Muertos.
Over the last decade or so, Día de los Muertos’ popularity has spread far outside of Mexico with those who have gravitated toward the holiday’s message of remembrance and celebration of those who are gone. Whether you’ve celebrated this important Mexican holiday your whole life, or you’d like to experience this tradition for the first time, we’ve created 9 simple steps to make an ofrenda of your own—no matter where you are in the world.
CLEAN THE SPACE
It is important to thoroughly clean your house before setting up your ofrenda. Many treat Día de los Muertos as having “special visitors” in the house—meaning that ancestors are coming in spirit to visit the home through memories. Make sure to impress them!
CHOOSE THE SPOT
Next, you’ll need to find the perfect table, or special spot, that really stands out and has enough surface area for your ofrenda. Then choose a nice (preferably white) tablecloth to cover the table.
PLACE PAPEL PICADO
To make your altar table even more beautiful and celebratory, place papel picado—traditional Mexican tissue paper of many colors with designed cut-outs—over the white tablecloth. You can also make your own papel picado by cutting small designs into colorful tissue paper.
FIND PICTURES OF LOVED ONES
For the centerpiece of your ofrenda, find pictures of your loved ones who have passed away. These photos are a very important part of the ofrenda. You may also choose to display items of their clothing, or other souvenirs that embody them.
GIVE FOOD AND TREATS
Then, place the favorite dishes and treats of your loved ones on the ofrenda. In Mexico, people often make Pan de Muerto (“Bread of the Dead”)—a type of sweet bread baked in the weeks leading up to Día de los Muertos.
OFFER WATER AND SALT
According to Mexican tradition, water is placed to symbolically quench the thirst of the souls, which are tired after their long journey to visit the living. Salt is also offered to the souls, as a symbol of purification.
DECORATE WITH FLOWERS
The iconic marigold flower is traditionally placed on the ofrenda, as its bright orange petals are thought to represent rays of sunshine. The sweet smell is thought to guide the dead to their altar.
LIGHT THE CANDLES
It is believed that candlelight, in addition to the scent of marigolds, helps guide the spirits home. Traditionally, a candle is lit for each deceased relative. You may choose to use incense burners, as well, alongside the candles.
SMILE AND REMEMBER
Now that your ofrenda has been carefully prepared and beautifully decorated, it’s time to honor the reason for why it’s there. Each time you pass by your ofrenda, think about all the memories and wonderful moments you shared with your loved ones—and smile. After all, Día de los Muertos is a celebration of life—as well as death.
It is important to remember that each ofrenda is unique and special in its own way. We invite you to follow the 9 steps that we have proposed, or simply pick and choose the elements that work best for you—or you can try adding something completely different! From all of us here at Vidanta, we wish you a wonderful Día de los Muertos.