04 November, 2012

Day of the Dead - Home Altars Explained

Wow what a fantastic weekend!  I have never seen so many wonderful and beautiful things.  I made my first ever altar this weekend.  We honored my Suegros (mother and father in law) and Boris' Grandparents.  For never having done one before I think I did a pretty good job!  But it was still a lot of fun to see all of the altars around downtown.  I will share some photos of those for you as well.

First we gathered photographs, personal items and things that reminded us of the honored family member.  We cleared an area in the house to have the alter.  Thankfully I had a small table with three levels, I decided to use that instead of piling covered boxes somewhere on the floor where I knew that the dog and cat would get to it.  Next I covered the different levels with colored fabric.  Pink for the top, white for the middle and purple for the bottom level (according to tradition).  Then we needed to go to the market to purchase the final items; flowers, sugar sculls, saints, candles, incense and sweets.  Thankfully there was a whole street blocked off the week before Dia de los Muertos.

I loved the piles of flowers everywhere.  Marigolds are the most traditional but there was a gorgeous mix of all sorts of flowers that have been growing for the past months just for this very event.  The prices were great too!  10 pesos (less than $1US) bought you a gigantic bunch of flowers.  We saw many people leaving with armloads of flowers.


This is the final product.  I will walk you through the items one level at a time.

Candles are lit to light the way for the dead, there are four to represent the four corners of the compass, normally of varying sizes and colors...this is what I had on hand.   Three sugar sculls represent the Holy Trinity.  Photos of the family member that you wish to honor and their favorite saints, a cross is normally placed at the highest point of the alter as well.  Personal items are also added.  I placed perfume and Cheetos for my Suegra.  She loved her bottle of Channel #5 and she always had Cheetos stashed somewhere.  Hee hee!   Incense is also lit, traditionally copal, I used a scented candle as one of the candles- double duty.  It is believed that the dead are still blind but that they can smell.  Copal is lit to lead them home.  Marigolds are the most popular flower to use on an altar as they represent infinity.

Food and drink are laid out for the family member as well to nourish them after their long journey.  A glass of water and Pan de Muerto are a must!  Fruit is also very common   Many people pour shots for their family members as well.  Many families prepare favorite dishes for their loved ones and lay out full plates of food.  I was wary of doing this as I knew that our mischievous animals would take advantage of food laying out.  Sure enough the second I finished taking these pictures the dog stole the Bollilo and the cat was drinking from the water glass!

I really enjoyed doing this.  I felt so much closer to my mother in law who passed away at the beginning of the year.  We had a fantastic time recounting stories about her with family that we had visiting this weekend.  It always feels so depressing going to a Cemetery that is barren with only a few flowers here and there.  But this was bright, light and fun.  It was something that we could do as a family and really honor and remember the dead.  This is a tradition that I plan to keep alive for a long time!

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