Are you unsure about how to build an ofrenda for the upcoming Days of the Dead? Ofrendas are shrines built to remember and honor people who have died. They are a way to keep the memory of that person alive through the annual tradition of remembering what they loved to do, eat, drink and look like. The idea is to build a shrine that will entice the spirits to return home to visit on the special days of November 1 and 2.
The photos give you a couple of examples from some 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 to the visiting spirits. 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.
5. Photos and favorite objects: Ofrendas always include photographs of the deceased person(s) 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.