Tuesday, September 2, 2008

How to make a Day of the Dead altar

he Ofrenda (offering or tribute) is a decorated area such as an altar or shrine with offering to honor and remember departed spirits. Welcome the spirits of your loved ones by preparing an ofrenda in your home on the Day of the Dead.

Things You’ll Need:
* Treats (such as candied sugar skulls)
* Incense
* Personal items of the deceased (such as jewelry)
* Salt
* Candles
* Calaveras
* Water
* Favorite beverage of the deceased
* Papel picado

An ofrenda usually displays:

Photos and Statues

The centerpiece is usually a photo of the most recently departed family member or whoever the ofrenda is dedicated to. Photos or statues of patron saints are also on the altar. Calaveras, or skeleton figures, to symbolize the deceased as they were when they were alive. These figures often depict the special interests of the departed (such as playing the guitar or dancing) and how they physically looked. They represent the playfulness of the Dead, as they mimic the Living and frolic amongst us.

Food and Drink

The deceased's favorite food and drinks are set out. Although the spirits can not physically eat, they absorb the essence, and once full, they share with the living. The one constant food on the ofrenda is bread, or pan de muertos. It is also customary to provide water and salt for purification of the ofrendas and visiting souls.

Flowers symbolize the brevity of life. They are arranged on the ofrenda and may be sprinkled from the gravesite to the home, creating a pathway for the dead. The scent also helps the souls to find their way home. The traditional flower is the cempazuchitl (zempasuciti), a bright orange marigold.

Many candles are added to the ofrenda and are different shapes, sizes and designs.

Copal, a resin derived from a tree native to Mexico, is the incense traditionally used to help spirits find their way to this world.

Favorite Items
Favorite items of the deceased are placed on the ofrenda. Items might include clothing, cigarettes, toys for children, daily use items such as hand towels or other things that are significant.

Colorful decorations, such as papel picado (tissue paper cut in designs) and orange marigold flowers may also be used as trimming.

At the Cemetery
On a chosen day, gravestones and crosses are scrubbed and repainted, usually blue, a sacred color to deflect evil. Flowers, candles and incense are set up at the gravesites. This may be done ahead of time or during the celebration. Food may be set up at the gravesite, or there may be a communal table.

Day of the Dead, or el Dia de los Muertos, is a happy celebration in Mexico. It actually occurs over two days: November 1 and November 2, and dates back to the Aztec civilization which saw death as a portal to other existences.

The first Day of the Dead, on November 1, is usually reserved for the children, for honoring the souls of the little angelitos. The next day, the adults are remembered. You will see both young and old in the night's rituals, holding vigils in the town cemetery. Everywhere, round loaves, dusted with colored sugar, are shared with both the living and the dead.

Visit Cielito Lindo Estudio for ideas, calaveras, nichos, crosses, and more for your home ofrenda at www.cielitolindoestudio.net.

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