Creating an altar is one of the most significant traditions during Día de los Muertos festivities both in Mexico and in my home. Each and every element of an altar has special significance and is meant to remember and celebrate our loved ones who have left the mortal world. The real beauty behind a Day of the Dead altar is that it can be simple or elaborate, and can also be built communally or individually. Below are three altars that I find particularly beautiful and hope that they serve as inspiration for you!
Altar #1 by Elexia de la Parra, Casa Artelexia. Elexia is the owner of Casa Artelexia, a lovely San Diego gift shop that specializes in handcrafted Mexican gifts, art, and home décor. She also hosts fun cultural workshops and recently began offering food tours to Mexico. She hosts an annual Día de los Muertos celebration at her shop and builds a community altar where people can share photos, mementos, or leave a note for their deceased loved ones.
Communal alters are particularly important because anyone who has lost a loved one knows that it takes a community of family and friends to help get through the mystery of a death, especially an untimely one. A group alter reminds us that through death we are all united and that as a community it is important to celebrate and appreciate life.
The bright tablecloth, papel picado, and vibrant flowers really bring this altar to life! Photo courtesy of Casa Artelexia.
Black-and-white photos, a few bottles of tequila, pan de muerto (Day of the Dead bread), colorful calaveras (sugar skulls), and veladora candles add a special touch to this altar. Photo courtesy of Casa Artelexia.
I love how Mexican bean pots, dishes, and molinillos (wooden whisks) are part of this altar’s ofrendas (offerings). Photo courtesy of Casa Artelexia.
Altar #2 by Nicole Makrinos, Flan and Apple Pie. My friend Nicole is the blogger behind Flan and Apple Pie and was inspired to honor her yia yia (Greek grandmother) this year for Día de los Muertos. She recently passed away after 91 years of life, but her memory, recipes, and love of baking live on through Nicole. Surely the aroma of her yia yia’s sweet treats will fill the air as she brings her altar to life!
Nicole’s altar includes homegrown zinnia flowers, Day of the Dead food-themed papel picado, and photos of her grandmother — one from her graduation because she loved to study, and the other in the kitchen, which shows her love for entertaining and baking. Photo courtesy of Flan and Apple Pie.
Nicole also included some of her grandmother’s favorite sweets and treats (coffee, chocolate, and bananas) as well as a Yahtzee game because Yia Yia held the title of Yahtzee champion in their family. Photo courtesy of Flan and Apple Pie.
Altar #3 by moi, Lola Wiarco Dweck, Lola’s Cocina. My altar celebrates the lives of my father, baby cousin Olivia, my maternal grandparents and great grandparents, and my husband’s grandmother. Each year I include a little something new to my altar – this year, I added handmade paper flowers, decorative calaveras, and unique candles. If this doesn’t awaken the souls of my dearly departed, I don’t know what will!
My altar decor seems to get more elaborate each year. In time it will take up an entire room!
I display my photos on a separate, smaller table so that they don’t get lost among all of the other offerings and decor!
Here I include a clay bean pot for my great grandma Macky who always had a fresh pot of beans on the stove (even though she had a freezer full of frozen beans)! You can also see a small bowl of chile japonés, for my grandma Lola who used these to make her world famous salsa.
Pan dulce (Mexican sweet bread) serves as a sweet welcome on Day of the Dead. My altar also includes a bowl of garlic for my great grandpa Pete who loved garlic sandwiches, a glass chicken, which reminds me of one that my great grandma Angie used to have, and water, salt, and fall fruits.
Last but not least, there’s always a mini chia pet on my altar for my father. You see, he and his compadre, my uncle Dennis, used to give each other a chia pet as a gag gift and it became an ongoing joke in our family. Sometimes it would be lost for years, and then it would reappear on a holiday or birthday!
Learn more about Day of the Dead
Day of the Dead: A Celebration of Life!
Day of the Dead Mexican Cooking Class – SOLD OUT | Sunday, Nov. 1 | Highlands Ranch, CO
3 Foods Associated with Day of the Dead
3 Fun Day of the Dead Projects
Lola Wiarco Dweck
Lola is a Mexican-American recipe developer, writer, and cooking instructor who loves sharing her culture with the world. Growing up in California and spending summers in Mexico, Lola celebrates her family’s Mexican recipes and vibrant culture through Lola’s Cocina.