Loved ones honored with Día de los Muertos ofrenda (altar)

Thursday, November 17, 2022

Special Collections invited community members to honor and celebrate the lives of their passed loved ones by contributing a photograph to its Altar de Muertos. Day of the Dead altars, or ofrendas, are a way to remember and honor deceased relatives and friends.

Ofrendas are set up in homes to welcome home the souls of the dead on Día de Muertos, Nov. 1-2. Ofrendas are decorated with marigolds, favorite dishes, candles, incense, photographs, and objects of personal use.

Traditional ofrenda elements and their meaning:

  • Structure: The levels represent heaven, earth, and the underworld
  • Food and drinks: Preferred food and drinks of the deceased since they can only enjoy them once a year
  • Personal Items: Can be photos or objects
  • Salt: Purification
  • Copal or incense: Burned to guide the souls through its aroma
  • Marigolds (cempasúchitl) flowers: The flower’s vibrant colors and potent fragrance help lure the dead’s souls back home
  • Mat or rug: Placed at the foot of the altar for the soul to rest after their long journey home
  • Papel picado: Special paper cut in the shape of butterflies and other symbolic iconography; represents the wind
  • Sugar skulls: Represent the person’s spirit

The Four Elements

  • Earth – represented by the crop. Souls are fed by the aroma of the harvest. Quail and birds are fed by the scratch and seed on the altar
  • Wind – represented by a moving object as swift as the wind. Tissue paper (papel picado) is used to represent wind.
  • Water – placed in a container for the souls to quench their thirst after its long journey to reach the altar.
  • Fire – represented by wax candles. Each soul is represented by a lit candle, and an extra one is placed for the forgotten soul.

Thank you to Patricia BallesterosLorenia DiazAmanda Howard, and Special Collections student employee, Kali Anne Draper, for building the altar with such care and thoughtfulness. 

Original story was posted on Special Collections' website.