What does an ofrenda of the day of the dead carry and its meaning? Photos of several ofrendas of the dead from Mexico by readers.
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In this article we want to explain what the tradition consists of, what elements an ofrenda carries and to show you an exhibition of ofrendas seen by Mexican travel bloggers and readers of our blog.
The tradition of the Day of the dead
The Day of the Dead is a pre-Hispanic celebration. It was declared by UNESCO as Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The idea is to pay tribute and celebrate the lives of those who have already gone to the other world. The memory and presence of them is celebrated, since on that day they will return home to be with their relatives and taste the delicious food that have been placed for them on the ofrenda.
Did you know? According to tradition, the 1st of November is dedicated to those who died as children and the 2nd to those who died in adulthood.
This tradition has managed to survive thanks to the syncretism between Spanish and indigenous customs, that is why some symbols of the Catholic religion have been incorporated into the celebrations, as well as the dates: it coincides with the days of celebration of All Saints (Nov. 1st) and the Dead (Nov. 2nd)
Places where an ofrenda of the day of the dead can be placed
Ofrendas are traditionally placed in homes or in the cemetery, on the graves of the deceased. That is where he will return on November 2. But as always happens, traditions are transforming in such a way that now we can see ofrendas of the dead placed in:
- Schools: I had the opportunity, together with several colleagues, to set up an ofrenda. We were several groups doing it. Sometimes things can become even competitive since recognitions are awarded to the most beautiful ofrenda. In the case of primary schools, the aim is to show this tradition to children in a fun way.
- Companies and government offices: each department or area sets up an ofrenda to the delight of all employees.
- Others like shopping centers, museums.
- The different cultural institutes of the states and municipalities organize contests for the best ofrenda of the day of the dead.
We saw this ofrenda in a shop, dedicated to Valentín Elizalde and Paul Walker:
This other, was in a shopping center, dedicated to all those who died from Covid-19:
So, now you know, if you are one of those who are afraid to go to cemeteries at night, don’t worry. The opportunities to see ofrendas and offerings for the Day of the Dead are many.
What elements should an ofrenda have?
There are several elements that, according to tradition, an ofrenda must carry. Although sometimes some may be missing or sometimes it is decorated with more details, this would be what should not be missing in the ofrenda of the dead:
- Photo of the deceased: ideally it should be in the central part of the ofrenda.
- Papel picado: the pecked paper represents the wind. In ancient times the Aztecs used amate paper (bark paper). Nowadays, china paper cut out with figures of skulls, catrinas, among others, is used. Ideally, they should be purple and yellow since these colors represent the duality of death and life. Although in reality now several colors are seen on the ofrendas.
- Salt: it is used so that the body of the deceased is not corrupted on the round trip.
- Candles: they are used to illuminate the path of the deceased.
- Water: a glass of water is left for the one who returns to quench their thirst.
- Personal belongings of the deceased
- Black dog: it will help the souls to cross the Itzcuintlan river.
- Food: Tradition dictates that the food that the deceased liked should be left on the altar. If they liked tacos, pozole, enchiladas or whatever, that’s it. There must also be pan de muerto (bread of the dead).
- Skulls: usually sweet, they are a mockery of death and the name of the buyer or a living person is written on their foreheads. They remind that death can be sweet and not bitter.
- Cempazúchitl flowers: this Aztec marigold is a symbol of the radiance of the sun. It is believed to attract and guide the dead. This is the traditional flower of the dead that is put in almost the whole country, with some exceptions, for example in the state of Puebla baby’s breath and gladiolus are used.
Leaving aside the elements that must be on an altar because tradition dictates it, what prevails is the affection and dedication with which it is made.
An ofrenda we saw at a school
We were in Mexicali and it wasn’t November 2nd yet, but I was impatient to show Vicente what the Day of the Dead ofrendas were. We went to the UABC (Autonomous University of Baja California) and at the Faculty of Architecture we found that they had already put up several altars. There were some dedicated to the luchadores, where a cemetery with cardboard graves had also been recreated, another dedicated to actors from the era of Mexican golden cinema. But the altar that most caught my attention was one that had a large arch that said “Maestra Escamilla.”
It was a great ofrenda in which they even recreated the desk of the deceased teacher, surely she was very loved by the students of the faculty since you could see the dedication they had put into it. At the same time, I am very happy to see that despite being in the northernmost part of the country, people are clinging to not letting go of this tradition and that being on the border with the US, Halloween has arrived with force. Fortunately, the two customs have been able to coexist.
Ofrendas of the dead sent by our readers
Some of our readers have sent us photos of the ofrendas they have seen:
Mexicali, Baja California
Seen by Oscar Osuna
Seen by Lizeth Alcocer
Seen by Malibé Rosas
If you want to keep seeing more about the traditions of Mexico, here we tell you about what we do on Día de la Independencia (es) (Independence Day).