Making Your Own Ofrenda: Remembering Loved Ones at Home

Making Your Own Ofrenda: Remembering Loved Ones at Home

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.

So, we built our own ofrenda.

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.

What do you need to build your own ofrenda?

Truly, the desire to do it will spark all the creativity and meaning you need.

  • Pick a special place in your home. Some may want a private setting and others may want the ofrenda to be the focal point of the home. Do what you feel is most honoring.
  • Choose your photos. Some people have just one family member on their ofrenda, while others have many, many faces of generations gone. Families who have suffered pregnancy or infant loss can place ultrasound photos or footprints.
  • Traditionally, ofrendas are adorned with golden or orange marigolds (paper or real) that are supposed to help attract spirits with their vibrant color and strong scent.
  • Favorite or symbolic items are placed around the altar along with favorite foods, and, yes, a little tequila!

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.

As you walk by your ofrenda or feel drawn to it, allow yourself a few experiences:
  • Say hello to the people you are honoring, tell them you love them.
  • Feel whatever connection you can & allow it to be real.
  • Enjoy and savor their presence. It doesn’t need to be heavy or hard. Let it be casual, significant and special.
  • Allow for the unexpected.

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.

Molly Keating
Molly Keating
Hello! I'm Molly and I run & manage the Blog here at O'Connor. I grew up in a mortuary with a mortician for a father who's deep respect for the profession inspired me to give working at a mortuary a try. Work at O'Connor has brought together two of my deep passions, writing & grief awareness. In 2016 I earned Certification in the field of Thanatology, the study of Death, Dying and Bereavement. I am honored to be able to speak on these taboo topics with knowledge, compassion, and a unique perspective. I want to sincerely thank you for following & reading the blog, I hope that this is a healing place for you.

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