Build a Day of the Dead Ofrenda to Honor your Departed Loved Ones


Day of the Dead Art Ofrenda

Are you unsure about how to build an ofrenda for the upcoming Days of the Dead? Here are a couple of examples from one of my trips to Mexico during Dia de los Muertos. Every ofrenda is unique and personal so don’t worry about whether you are doing it correctly or not. The main idea is to make an inviting altar that will entice the spirits of your departed loved ones to return to enjoy a few hours with you over November 1 and 2.  Mexicans believe  the smells of the flowers, food and copal incense are especially  enticing. And the color of orange and magenta is traditional throughout Mexico. So here are a few ideas of what to include:

1. Marigolds: the color and smell of marigolds is believed to attract the spirits. But if you live in a northern climate, like I do, the marigolds are long gone! You can substitute yellow/gold mums or the magenta colored brain flower (if you can find it!). In the shop, I use lots of artificial marigolds that I collect at thrift shops over the year.

2. Candles: Whatever candles you have will suffice. I like to put out the Lux candles with the image of the Virgin on them because they color combination is so inviting. I also purchase the super long ivory colored candles in the Mexican market whenever I can so I carry those in the shop. I use them during my presentations about Dia de los Muertos 101 to give a little taste of the feeling in the cemetery on those special nights of November 1 & 2.

3. Papel picado: “Picked” paper or the cutout paper flags are found at all Mexican fiestas. The papel picado for Muertos usually has images of the catrina or skulls or says, “Dia de los Muertos” on it. It comes in multiple colors and multiple sizes. We carry it at the shop.

4. Sugar skulls: These are fabulous folk art pieces sold in the sugar markets that pop up about now in towns all over Mexico. Toluca has one of the largest and most famous but many cities have them and one can find lots of charming, unique, beautiful skulls made out of sugar. You can have the name of your loved one written across the forehead or not. I carry gorgeous sugar skulls made by a Mexican-American woman in the Twin Cities because they are so fragile and hard to get home in one piece.

Dia de los Muertos Sugar Skull

5. Photos and favorite objects: Ofrendas include photographs of the deceased which in conjunction with the smells and colors of the flowers, candles and incense help the spirits determine where they should go to reunite and commune with their relatives. Many people also include the favorite foods or beverages of the departed.  For children, a favorite toy may be placed on the altar.

I hope you enjoy building your own unique ofrenda to remember and honor your loved ones who have passed away. If you have any questions, just let me know! Click on any of the photos to take you to our online shop or stop in at 826 West 50th in Minneapolis.

Dia de los Muertos Art Ofrenda