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Items for Altar / Ofrenda

Here are the ofrendas that you will typically see on a Dia de los Muertos altar:

  • Candles - Candles are lit to welcome the spirits back to their altars.

  • Marigolds - These yellow-orange flowers, also called cempasúchitl, symbolize death. Their strong fragrance also help lead the dead back to their altars. Marigold petals may also be sprinkled on the floor in front of the altar, or even sprinkled along a path from the altar to the front door, so that the spirit may find her way inside.

  • Incense - Most commonly, copal incense, which is the dried aromatic resin from a tree native to Mexico. The scent is also said to guide the spirits back to their altars

  • Salt - represents the continuance of life.

  • Photo of the deceased - A framed photo of the dead person to whom the altar is dedicated, usually positioned in a prime spot on the altar.

  • Pan de muerto - Also known as "bread of the dead", pan de muerto is a symbol of the departed.

  • Sugar skulls - As symbols of death and the afterlife, sugar skulls are not only given as gifts to the living during Day of the Dead, they are also placed as offerings on the altar.

  • Fresh fruit - whatever is in season — oranges, bananas, etc.

  • Other foods - Traditional Day of the Dead foods that you would find on altars include atole, mole, tamales, and tortillas. Altars also usually include the dead person's favorite foods, including modern foods like Rice Krispies or potato chips!

Art & Cultural Celebration - Dia de los Muertos

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Altar / Ofrenda

Altar / Ofrenda

On top of the altar, offerings are laid out for the dead — known as ofrenda in Spanish. These are items that the spirits will enjoy when they come back to earth to visit their living families and friends.


A Day of the Dead altar is usually arranged on a table top that is used just for the altar. Altars have at least two tiers, sometimes more. The table or crates are draped with cloth (or sometimes a paper or plastic covering). An arch made of marigolds is often erected over top of the altar.


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Similar to Memorial Day celebrated in the United States, Dia de los Muertos is a time to remember loved ones that have passed.


Day of the Dead altars are built during Dia de los Muertos to honor the lives of those who have passed. They are often quite beautiful creations, constructed with love and care. Creating these altars is one of the most important traditions during Day of the Dead in Mexico and in Mexican-American communities around the globe. Traditionally, every family in Mexico builds an altar on the days leading up to November 1.

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