WRITING ABOUT: DAY OF THE DEAD – ALTARS
My name is Gilda, and I am proud to be Mexican. According to my intention of sharing with you experiences and information on my country, its regions, atmosphere, traditions and culture, I am writing several texts on a fabulous event that colourfully portrays the celebrations that we Mexicans appreciate so much and are glad to show our visitors: THE DAY OF THE DEAD.
This text is about the altars, colloquially called OFRENDAS, which practically all Mexicans dedicate to our dear departed. The making of the altar is carefully planned.
Where is it going to be? Of course, it has to be a selected place in our house or flat. A place where everybody can admire it and where our dear departed will immediately find it.
What are we going to include in it? For sure, all sorts of things that our dear departed loved: food, beverages, special objects, flowers, sugar and chocolate skulls, cigarettes or cigars (if they used to smoke), coloured paper cut-outs…
What sort of food? Perhaps his favourite meal; a traditional dish cooked for this day in some regions of the country; and specially, the “Pan de Muerto” (Bread for the Dead) that has the form of a skull and is absolutely delicious. The idea is to make sure that he/she/they have enough to eat on their journey.
What sort of beverages? Guilt-producing ones, mainly: beer, a small glass of tequila, mezcal, rum, whiskey (yes, we do enjoy whiskey in this country!), his favourite soda or the very Mexican “agua fresca” (water made of different fruits and flavours).
What sort of special objects? Personal belongings of the deceased such as toys or clothes, religious objects such as crosses or portraits or statues of saints, ancient Mexican favourites for this day such as copal (incense), salt and water, etc. An essential element is a picture of the deceased.
What sort of flowers? Most of all, the famous cempasúchitl, or flower of the dead, very much appreciated by the Aztecs, and which is commonly known as marigold. And surely, whatever flowers the deceased liked.
All altars include at least one candle (veladora) to light the deceased’s way. In Mexico we usually light candles to pray for something (our health or the health of others, a special request, for mourning purposes, to thank the Virgin or God or a favourite saint for a favour received), and they could not be absent in this celebration.
Well in advance you can find everywhere decorations such as lanterns, fancy skulls, full skeletons, catrinas, candies, papel picado (cut-out paper). It all depends on your imagination and the space you have.
Mind you, the ofrendas or altars are not only set up in people’s houses. They are also very much appreciated in cemeteries, where people get together to visit and have fun with their dear departed at their graveyards; beautiful altars are built; people stay up all night, eating, singing, listening to music, praying or doing whatever they consider suitable to enjoy the visit. In some regions this is a huge event, and a very respected tradition.
And, of course, impressive altars are set up in public buildings, schools, parks and churches! People love to visit them, sometimes wearing costumes related to this celebration.
The altars are such a splendid way to honour the deceased and to welcome them in their journey to the place where they used to live!
Be sure to accompany us with this tradition: build an altar in your home and enjoy it! Or come to Mexico to admire some of them!! You will always be welcome!!