The above photo is of my own home ofrenda. I had to put it up early because Stevie and I will be in Oaxaca with our Days of the Dead trip over the actual holiday (which we still have a few spaces available on, if anyone is interested…). Anyway, I show it to you not because I think it’s a fabulous example (believe me, I know it’s not!), but because I also know that the idea of making your own ofrenda can be pretty intimidating if all you have to go on are the beautiful examples you’ve seen from Oaxaca and Michoacan. I just lowered the bar a little for you. (You’re welcome.)
So maybe we don’t have the years of experience that the people in Mexico do (or the access to inexpensive fresh flowers!), but our ofrendas are no less heartfelt.
Ready to give it a try?
Begin with a small table placed against the wall or other background. It is good, but not absolutely necessary, to have some sort of framework above the table that you can decorate as well. Cover the table with a nice cloth, perhaps something that belonged to the person being honored, or in his/her favorite color.
Include any or all of the following items on your ofrenda:
- Glass of Water
- Candles (Representing Fire) At least one for each person being honored
- Fruits and vegetables (Representing the Earth) Use fresh, dried, plastic, papier-maché, or whatever…
- Papel Picado Banners (Representing the Wind) You can make or purchase these.
- Dish of salt
- Copal (Incense sticks in copal scent are available in some places)
- Marigolds (fresh, dried, paper, or silk) or other orange, yellow or magenta flowers. The more flowers, the better. When making an ofrenda, feel free to embrace the “more is more” philosophy.
- Pan de Muerto (Bread of the Dead) If you live in an area where there is a panadería (Mexican bakery) they will likely have pan de muerto for sale at this time of year. Or you can make your own using the recipe we posted yesterday.
- Framed photograph of the person being honored
- Small, personal item/s that belonged to the deceased: a watch, piece of jewelry, hat, belt, handkerchief, etc.
- Favorite foods or beverages: a plate of food, candy bar, bottles of beer, wine, or other…
- Sugar skulls (These are easy and fun to make or, depending on where you live, you may find them available for sale.) You can also find or make decorated skulls in plaster, papier-maché ceramic, or other media.
- Skeletons made of papier-maché, ceramic, or other. The sky is the limit here. There is a fabulous array of Days of the Dead folk art available.
Assemble all the elements and arrange them as you like. While the components of most ofrendas are similar, each reflects the creative talents of its maker. The possibilities are truly endless. CRIZMAC offers a wide variety of products that may be useful to you as you plan your Days of the Dead celebration.
I have found making an ofrenda to be a wonderful family activity, as well. It provides a non-threatening environment for children to ask questions about death and dying, and also gives them an opportunity to learn more about family members who they may not have known or known well.
In the past few months I had to say goodbye to two important people in my life—a favorite aunt Sally, who first shared with me the color and wonder of Mexico, and Harrison Yocum, a dear friend who introduced my daughter and me to the hobby of rockhounding, which became a passion (some would say obsession). This year’s ofrenda is dedicated to them.
Descansa en Paz Tía
Rest in Peace Harrison
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For even more information, plus great photos of traditional ofrendas, you may also be interested in our Squidoo lens on Day of the Dead.