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Published on 11/10/2018

Preparing a Traditional Mexican Altar for the Day of the Dead

Preparing A Traditional Mexican Altar For The Day Of The Dead
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Every year, the vibrant culture of Mexico is on full display during the most popular Mexican holiday: Dia de Muertos, or Day of the Dead. This festive holiday has long been a part of the beautiful Mexican culture, and it celebrates and remembers loved ones who have passed away. There are many Day of the Dead traditions that you can see during the festivities, but at the heart of it all are the Day of the Dead altars. To build a Día de Muertos altar is a great way to experience and learn about Mexican culture for yourself.

The traditional Mexican altar for the holiday stems from ancient Aztec celebrations, when mourning the loss of a loved one was considered disrespectful and joyful remembrance was encouraged instead. Before the arrival of Catholicism in Mexico, this Mexican holiday was celebrated at the beginning of the summer when families would build a traditional Mexican altar to remember and celebrate the lives of those who had passed away. In some traditions, it is believed that the spirits of these ancestors can return to the earth during this Mexican holiday to offer comfort and advice to those still living. To this day, the Day of the Dead traditions continue throughout the country every year from October 31 to November 2.


To build a Dia de Muertos altar, stack boxes or crates together to create multiple tiers and cover with a cloth. Then, you must first decide which family members to dedicate it to. At the top of the altar, place photos of these individuals. On the other layers, you’ll place ofrendas, or offerings to the spirits. Traditionally, place a cup of water on the altar to symbolize life and candles to represent faith. In addition, you’ll need to add a small bowl of salt, which represents purification and the preservation of the the body. You should also scatter autumnal marigold flowers or petals across the altar or place them in a vase. As you build a Dia de Muertos altar, think of the person’s favorite foods, drinks, and items to place as well on the altar as ofrendas. In Mexico, you’ll find pan de muerto, a sweet bread, placed on the altar alongside tamales or fruit. The person’s favorite items can range from books to sports team memorabilia.

What’s most important to build a Dia de Muertos altar isn’t just the ofrendas or sweet pan de muerto but being creative and respectful. Don’t just heap a bunch of stuff together and call it an alter. Create something that looks beautiful and loving to you. Use the time you spend building the Day of the Dead altars remembering the best about your loved ones’ lives and celebrating their memory. If you don’t have time to gather many ofrendas, find pan de muerto, or create an elaborate traditional Mexican altar, a simple photo with some candles and flowers has the same effect and can be just as special.


Taking part in the Day of the Dead traditions is a great way to learn about another culture from their point of view and to celebrate life. As you build Day of the Dead altars, you’ll be able to take part in a long tradition and carry on the memories of your loved ones.