The 1st and 2nd of November are one of the most important and representative dates for all Mexicans, this day we celebrate the Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos).

Despite the fact that the name of this day seems somewhat tragic and sad, for Mexicans it is an opportunity to remember all those people who are no longer with us. These days is when we celebrate these people, they are days of reflection and it is an excellent opportunity to remember anecdotes or stories of those loved ones.

These days it is very common for millions of people to attend cemeteries to decorate the tombs of their relatives or friends, to gather as a family and enjoy the traditional bread of the dead (pan de muerto) and of course in each of our houses to make the traditional offering (ofrenda).

Dia de muertos Altar

Meaning of the Day of the Dead Offering

The reason why you will see offerings in homes, hospitals, universities, offices and practically everywhere in the country is because Mexicans believe that during the nights of October 31 and November 1, the souls of children and adults who died visit us to spend time with us. The offering is like the ‘bridge’ that allows these souls to cross from the world of the dead to our world.

The tradition of making an offering during these days originated hundreds of years, and is a mixture of pre-Hispanic and European elements.

The offering is also known as Altar of the Dead, and has been declared by UNESCO as Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Ofrenda mexicana, Offering mexican

Basic Elements in the Offering

One of the reasons that the offerings are so visually appealing is because there is no written rule about how it should be decorated or what size it should be.

Each person is free to use their imagination when adorning and decorating their altars, but in all the offerings we can find elements that are used by all of us since they have an important meaning. I will show you the most important elements of the offering:

1) Image of the deceased

This is one of the fundamental elements, since in this way we can indicate to whom we dedicate this offering.

2) Bread or ‘Bread of the Dead’

During this time of the year the traditional bread of the dead is prepared in Mexico, which is decorated with bone forms on the top imitating a cross, and this bread is sprinkled with sugar.

Miquiztlaxcalli

3) Copal and incense

The copal is a prehispanic element that was used to attract the spirits to the offering and it is believed that this element cleaned the offering of evil spirits. Incense is used to sanctify the room where the offering is.

4) Chopped paper (Paper Picado)

This element represents the air, which is one of the fundamental elements in life. The chopped paper is normally decorated with various designs associated with death.

Papel picado by timlewisnm

5) Candles

Candles are used to remember the deceased, and guide the souls to the offering.

6) Water

A glass ​​of water is placed with the intention of quenching the thirst of the spirits who traveled a long journey from the world of the dead.

7) Flowers

In the offerings ,a traditional orange flower called ‘Cempasúchil’ is used. This flower is believed to guide souls not to get lost along the way.

Flores de cempasúchil en la tradición mexicana.

8) Typical Food and Beverages

In the offerings it is common to leave the favorite food and drink of the deceased, this is with the intention that they can enjoy again their favorite culinary pleasures. Something curious is that days after removing the food from the offering, it loses flavor, as if the soul of the food had disappeared.

9) Salt

A plate of salt is left since it is believed that with the salt, the souls are purified.

10) Sugar or Chocolate Skulls

The skulls are a representation of death, it is very common that each of these skulls bear the name of the deceased.

Calaveras de Azúcar

11) Fruits

Fruits represent another basic element in life: the earth. It is also believed that fruits nourish these spirits.

12) Toys

On the night of October 31, we believe that the souls of the children who have died visit the altars, that is why we leave toys so that these spirits can have fun again.

13) Personal Objects

Finally, it is common to put personal objects of the deceased, this with the intention that they remember some moments of their time in the world of the living.

Remember to put your offering so that your loved ones can visit you during these days.

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Written by David Huerta

Mexican blogger living in Poland. Graduated from Warsaw School of Economics.