Creating an “Honoring the Ancestors” altar

A couple of my Día de los Muertos ofrendas. (Day of the Dead altars)


I love making altars.

To me, anything that creates a bridge between this world and the dimensions of spirit is a sacred conduit that carries prayers in both directions.

This is a particularly potent time of year to create an altar.

In Mexico, the altars to the spirits of the dead are called ofrendas. I like this word a lot as it derives from the Latin word for “offering.” To offer our care and love to our deceased loved ones through an ofrenda is love in action.

Here’s my suggestion for creating your Honoring the Ancestors ofrenda:

1. Choose a foundation for your ofrenda. A scarf, plate, placemat, or bandanna works well for this.
2. Place an object that is a representation of fire, water, earth, or air.You can choose one or more of the elements that most resonate for you. Flowers, especially marigolds, are traditionally used in Mexico. A candle is often an essential part of an altar. (I recommend keeping the candle lit only if you’re there in the same space with it.)
3. Add photos and/or personal objects that remind you of your loved ones. Choose according to your heart, rather than your intellect. You don’t have to have photos of everyone you loved who has died. In addition to or instead of photos, you can write a message to your loved ones on a piece of paper and place that on your altar.
4. Finally, a lovely Mexican tradition is to offer favorite foods and treats that you know your ancestors particularly loved. (Last year, I included pistachios on my altar, for my dad!)