We all know about Dia de los Muertos but did you know that it began as a pre-Columbian ritual in Mexico? As usually happened whenever Christianity was introduced to a conquered region, the beliefs of the indigenous people were folded the European's beliefs. That is how the Dia de los Muertos we celebrate today was born. It is a mixture of cultures, a day not of sadness, but rather a day to remember all the happiness and life that the deceased enjoyed.

That's why the altars that are built for Dia de los Muertos are so colorful and joyful. They reflect the celebration of life, not the mourning of a death. Flowers, food, candles, personal beloved items, even liquor and cigarettes are put out for the deceased on altars at their gravesite. They aren't put there for the deceased to eat. It's believed that the essence of the offerings are absorbed by the deceased person. And if you think the altars are for worshiping the dead, you're missing the point. The altars are only for remembering and honoring the deceased and their lives.


1. Photos of the deceased - Photos serve to remind the deceased of their time among the living and the happy times they had.

Genealogy family history theme with old family photos and documents.
Megan Brady

2. Flowers, usually marigolds - Marigolds are used because their bright orange and yellow colors symbolize the sun. Often, the flowers are laid out in a path to guide the deceased to the area where their family is waiting with food and drink.

Bright and colorful spring flowers on flowerbed nature background

3. Favorite foods of the deceased - The food and drink that is placed on the altar is there to help the deceased refresh themselves after their long journey from the afterlife.


4. Candles - Candles on the altar are there to help light the way back from the afterlife for the deceased. You can use any kind of candles but many families use altar candles that are usually burned in a church.

candle light vigil
Bob Elam

5. Sugar skulls - These brightly colored skulls are used because when the indigenous people of Mexico were being converted, they often didn't have money for fancy decorations, but they did have sugar. The folk art skulls were a way to decorate the altar that people could afford. The names of the deceased are often written on the forehead of the sugar skulls.

Traditional mexican Day of the dead altar with sugar skulls and candles

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