The Day of the Dead is the product of a unique mixture of multiple views. When the Spaniards colonized Mexico in the 16h century they began converting indigenous people to Catholicism. The original inhabitants of Mexico adopted the faith, but they retained many of their beliefs. One of the results of that mixing is the Day of the Dead. At the core of the tradition is the idea that the dead are allowed to return to Earth once a year. One of the key elements of revolves around ofrendas, or offerings, which are created through a visual display of altar-making and grave decorating.
This year, I wanted to build an altar to celebrate this beautiful holiday and tradition because it offers us the opportunity to celebrate the lives of those we love who have gone before us! Also, it was an opportunity to explore Olvera Street, “the birthplace of Los Angeles,” to collect fabrics, sugar skulls, and other artifacts to use as props for the altar.
When building an altar, you must set up a table with three different levels that include the four main elements of nature: Earth, Wind, Water, and Fire.
- Earth is represented by the crop: The soul is fed by the various earthly aromas. Placing fruit or favorite family dishes on the altar provides nourishment for the beloved souls.
- Wind is represented by a moving object: Paper-Mache is commonly utilized to represent the echoes of the wind.
- Water is placed in a container for the soul to quench its thirst after the long awaited journey to the altar. Water is also used for the means of purification.
- Fire is represented by a wax candle: Each lit candle represents a loving soul, and an extra one is placed for the forgotten soul.
There was also a great guide on buzzfeed that helped provide more details and descriptions, including this altar illustration: