There are so many beautiful, international traditions that can enrich and illuminate our holidays.
Día de los Muertos comes on November 1st every year following Halloween. If you watched the Disney movie, Coco, you saw the beauty of the family’s ofrenda – their altar filled with photos of their family members on the other side. The tradition holds that on the night of Dia de los Muertos, the dead are allowed to travel back to their homes on earth to taste their favorite treats, hear music, and visit their loved ones.
The tradition of the ofrenda (Spanish for offering) goes back to the Aztecs and some 3,000 years later is becoming more and more a part of our cultural awareness.
The Need: This year, as my kids and I helped my mom to decorate her house for Halloween, she shared that she wanted to make her own ofrenda. Recently, my daughter has started asking about grandma and grandpa’s mom and dad, “where are they?” and “what were their names?” I know it’s been sweet for both of my parents to talk about their deceased parents, but it’s come with heartache, too. This idea for the ofrenda felt like the perfect bridge between the pain of memory and the joy of telling their story.
The Process: We stacked some books, picked favorite photos, and put marigolds and flameless candles around the display. It’s simple and small but it feels huge and precious to me. Picking photos was truly delightful. I found new pictures and saw old favorites. The act of going through photos to pick just the right one is itself, an incredibly special and sweet experience. So many memories to relive and freshly share.
Their Presence: Having the photos of my grandparents out has truly given me the sense of their presence. I imagine their huge smiles over seeing the 4 great-grandchildren they never met giggling and racing through my parents house. It’s a bridge built between us and them and it was crafted in just a few minutes.
Truly, the desire to do it will spark all the creativity and meaning you need.
There isn’t a wrong way to create your ofrenda. Simple or elaborate, calm or bright; what matters is the doing of it.
The Bridge: The ofrenda is a bridge built between our present moment and the past. Savor this bridge. There is connection, emotion, mystery and love in the hope of the ofrenda.
If you’re worried about taking it down: 1. Don’t feel bad about taking it down. If you want, you can put it up again next year. 2. There isn’t a rush or rule, take your time & leave it up if you want. 3. If it helps to have permission to take it down, you have permission. You can take it down after the Dia de los Muertos is over, or before you put up Christmas decorations.
I hope you’ll consider building your own ofrenda and see what comes of it. Wishing all of you a beautiful Día de los Muertos.