An Altar is an Honor
A Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) altar is meant to honor the memory of someone who touched your life. This can be anyone from the family pet to Mother Teresa. Any person, and I think of pets as people too, who had a positive impact on your life can be the subject of your Day of the Dead altar. I have made different ones at various times. One to honor a beloved pet, or my partner after he passed away.
People also make altars to show their support for others. Day of the Dead altars can be made to remember those who have died due to cancer, AIDS related illnesses, to those lost in the World Trade Towers attack and to those who have died in any of the mass shootings we have here in the US.
Why Build an Altar?
There are people who believe that those building an altar are trying to raise the dead. This can’t be farther from the truth, because the belief is that the dead are never really gone, so raising them would be redundant. There is nothing demonic about building a Day of the Dead altar.
Are we trying to communicate with the dead? Yes, and no. There are two aspects to altar making on el Dia de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead). The first is to communicate with those who are no longer physically with us. I don’t see how this is any different from people going to visit the graves of their dearly departed. It isn’t about something dark or scary. It’s about continuing the relationship. It is about having an eternal dialogue with those that we love.
The second aspect is the connection it provides us to the world at large and to our place in the after-life. Whether you believe in a heaven or in nothing, the fact is that we do go on in the people we have touched. Something of us is always left behind. By building an altar we are acknowledging that we go on and that not being physically present isn’t the same as being gone.
Your Altar Checklist
Altars should include:
1. a picture of the one being remembered
2. items they were found of
3. something to snack on
Altars could include:
1. pictures of saints or religious icons
2. toy skeletons, skulls or bones
3. sugar skulls
5. tequila, or their favorite drink and a glass
6. soap, water & a small towel (because being dead can be messy)
It’s Up to You
A Day of the Dead altar can be as simple or as elaborate as you want. The purpose of an altar is remembrance, with that in mind feel free to do what you think your honoree would enjoy. While we have included a few guidelines, these are by no means rules to live by. They are a starting place, where you end up is completely up to you.
Some people take up entire corners of their homes with Day of the Dead altars, others use a simple end table dressed up with fabric and other items. The point is, size doesn’t really matter, what matters is the heart you put into it.
About Ladislao Loera and Frenzy Art:
Ladislao Loera is the owner/artist at FrenzyArt. His artwork is available on ceramic tiles , mugs , cutting boards , prints and other items. He produces his work at his studio in Austin, Tx. He has given talks on grief and loss, and on the Mexican holiday, the Day of the Dead.