“The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living.”
~ Marcus Tullius Cicero
Mexico’s Day of the Dead celebrations offer us an opportunity to connect with our departed loved ones. This tradition is rooted in ancient harvest festivals throughout the world that have also served as a time of remembrance.
From October 31 to November 2 in the northern hemisphere, it has been customary to take this time to remember that life is short and invite departed spirits to return for a visit encouraged by food, wine and festive decorations. In Mexico, family members return home to vigil in the community cemeteries, feast and tell stories.
I invite you to step into ceremony by creating an ofrenda, an altar for the dead. You’ll find that this annual ritual will enhance your connection to your own life as well as to those who came before.
A traditional ofrenda has multiple levels with an arch above or a decorative backboard. But, small altars are perfectly acceptable.
First you must decide which ancestors, friends or animals you wish to honor on your altar. A photograph of the departed serves as a focal point. You can honor several beloveds on one altar.
Traditional objects on a ofrenda might include:
Candle – fire is one of the four elements of nature
Earth – in gratitude to our current home
Glass of water, soap & towel – to refresh the spirits after their long journey
Copal – to welcome and guide the visiting spirits
Paper Banners – flutter in the breeze to represent wind (papel picado)
Salt – to purify the air
Flowers – traditionally marigolds and other fall ornamentals
Food – the beloved’s favorites, fruit and loaves of bread (pan de muerto)
Beverages – a favorite beer, tequila, coffee or tea
Personal Objects – clothing, jewelry or mementoes
Skeletons – traditional sugar skulls or other folk art
Small Dog – believed to be companions for the dead
Once your altar is created, invite your family and friends over for a feast to tell stories and celebrate the relationships that give our lives meaning.