(Click on any of the images to see our Dia de los Muertos pinboard with more altars.)
The home altar is meant to serve as a welcome for the long lost loved ones who have passed on before us. Just as we might welcome guests from out of town with a fine table, flowers, and food, so too will we welcome home our dearly departed for their short visit on Dia de los Muertos.
Elements of the Dia de los Muertos Altar:
We start with the table and a favorite tablecloth. Upon those, we’ll add photos of our dear ones. Personal belongings, favorite foods and beverages (like a good bottle of tequila) will make them welcome. It may be difficult for our spirit friends to open and pour, so pouring a glass of tequila is often done. Traditional foods like pan de muerto are also laid out to welcome our otherworldly guests.
Next we’ll add the four elements in nature.
Clay bowls of corn or fruits represent the earth and her harvest.
Papel picados, the delicately cut paper banners represent wind.
An open container of water will quench the thirst of our loved ones.
The fire of burning candles guides them home and represents the souls themselves.
Salt on the altar purifies the spirits.
Incense, rising like the spirits themselves, sweetens the air as it burns in clay “Copaleros” or “salumerios”.
Marigolds, or tissue flowers, brighten their path and adorn the altar.
Lastly, a simple woven mat is placed at the base of the altar for our weary travelers to rest.
Altars will vary with family and regional traditions, but this should give the unfamiliar a basic overview of the elements of a Dia de los Muertos altar.