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How to Create your Day of the Dead Altar

In the Mexican culture, the tradition of Día de Muertos, also called Day of the Dead, is a beautiful celebration of life, in which the dead are remembered and honored. 

Traditions vary between families and different regions of Mexico, but the altar, or ofrenda, is the centerpiece of this holiday. They act as a beacon and guide our passed loved ones back to us. The strong scents of the marigolds and incense, flames from the candles, and the vividly colored decorations all help to guide these souls back home. 

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Here are some tips to help you set up your altar:

1. Set up a table with different levels
The levels represent the underworld, Earth, and heaven. Use crates, books, or cardboard boxes turned upside down, to create levels on the table. The ground is the bottom level, the table is another level, and any boxes are more levels. You can use multiple boxes/crates to set up additional levels, if you'd like. 

Cover the table with tablecloths or colorful fabric. Use purple to symbolize mourning and white to represent purity. 

Hang papel picado, which symbolizes the wind, above your ofrenda, or across the table. When your papel picado begins to flutter, your loved ones have arrived.

How to create Day of the Dead Altar Dia de Muertos Altar DIY

2. Place any "earthy" elements on the floor
You can use scattered ash, symbolizing that we are all "ashes to ashes," or a miniature petate, so the souls can lay down and rest.

Next, scatter cempasúchil petals on the floor, also known as the Mexican marigold. These petals form a "pathway" to the base of your ofrenda, to guide the souls in. You can also use tea lights, candles, and string lights here to help light the way.

How to create Day of the Dead Altar / Dia de Muertos Altar DIY

3. Place food and other offerings in the middle level
The table, or middle level, represents the world of the living. A glass of water is important, since the souls will be thirsty when they make their way back from their journeys.

You can also set out their favorite foods, liquor, memorabilia that reminds you of them, such as their favorite luchadores, and more candles. Also, set out a small container with a pinch of salt.

How to create Day of the Dead Altar / Dia de Muertos Altar DIY

4. Create a representation of heaven on the higher levels
For these levels, you can use copal, an aromatic resin, or incense. Add marigolds and more candles (preferably white) to illuminate the altar overnight. If you'd like, you can add photos of the Virgen de Guadalupe, crosses, or a crucifix at the top.

How to create Day of the Dead Altar / Dia de Muertos Altar DIY

5. Add photos of your loved ones
This shows to your deceased loved one(s) that they are invited back home. Feel free to use as many photos as you'd like, and photos of anyone you want to include in these celebrations. They can be family, famous people, or other people who were important to you. You can also set out your favorite nichos and shadow boxes

Keep in mind, a person is dead when you no longer remember them or say their names. These photos are important in showing that although the person may not be here physically, they are living in memories. 

How to create Day of the Dead Altar / Dia de Muertos Altar DIY

Remember, there is no right or wrong way to create your altar. Tell us in the comments if you usually set up an altar and what you like to include. Each altar is as rich as the Mexican culture and we'd love to hear all about how you do it!
 
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Sources: SpectrumBuzzfeedLA Taco

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