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How to Make Your Own Day of the Dead Altar

LIFESTYLE | Published on 20/10/2020
Day of the dead altar ideas
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Day of the Dead traditions might seem strange to some, given that most cultures around the world mourn the death of loved ones. In Mexico, however, people all over the country join in a two-day celebration of life every year during el Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead, which is celebrated November 1st and 2nd. This colorful Mexican holiday, which beautifully blends Mesoamerican rituals with elements of Spanish culture and European religion, is a time when families welcome back the spirits of their deceased loved ones with food, beverage, and plenty of Day of the Dead decorations. Among the most important elements of this holiday are the Day of the Dead altars that honor those who have passed away. 

Day of the Dead Altars

Day of the Dead traditions include everything from parades and dancing to pan de muerto (dead bread) and sugar skulls, but the most important elements are the Day of the Dead altars that pop up all over Mexican towns as families spend a considerable amount of time building an altar for their loved ones that have passed away. With a well thought-out list of Day of the Dead altar items that are based both off of tradition and the personal interests of the guest of honor, families set out to create beautiful tributes that are believed to open the pathway between the spirit world and that here on Earth.

How to make a Day of the Dead Altar in Your Home


If you are wondering how to make a day of the Dead altar at home, you’ll first need to gather up a few essential Day of the Dead altar items. Among the most important are a photograph of the deceased, fresh flowers, which are considered essential Day of the Dead decorations, and a glass of water to help quench the thirst of the spirit visiting your home who has just made a considerable journey. Other Day of the Dead altar ideas may include religious items, food, palm rugs, personal objects of the deceased, ornaments, such as candle holders and incense burners, and papel picado, or chiseled paper. While Day of the Dead altar ideas differ from one region of Mexico to the next, they are all made in celebration of life.

What Goes on an Altar for Day of the Dead?


Day of the Dead altar ideas vary, but you’ll want to start with a base that has at least two levels. The first thing you need to do is cover the base with a piece of fabric. This is usually a solid color so that the bright Day of the Dead decorations you add to the altar really stand out. Next you’ll want to begin decorating. Add in chiseled paper, candles, marigold flower petals, a frame holding a picture of the guest of honor (a deceased friend or family member), candy, food, spirited drinks and cigarettes (if those were a favorite of the deceased), a small plate of salt, some personal objects, and a glass of water. When trying to figure out what goes on an altar for Day of the Dead, pretty much anything goes. Obviously you’ll want to take into consideration Day of the Dead traditions, but you should know that there is not one specific guide to following when building an altar. Each is as unique to the person you’ve dedicated it to. 

Building an altar can be a fun activity for the whole family or it can be done alone. Either way, as you add Day of the Dead altar items, make sure to focus your energy on the positive memories you have with that person. Day of the Dead traditions are meant to celebrate life, not make you feel sad or alone.


Looking for traditional Mexican recipes to warm up your Day of the Dead celebrations? We've created this video just for you!

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