The first two days of every November, the entire country of Mexico is overflowing with color and candlelight. The most important element is the Day of the Dead altars. Day of the Dead is a beautiful Mexican holiday honoring loved ones who have passed away, and local streets, cemeteries and parks fill up with people celebrating this macabre yet eye-catching holiday.
Mexicans set up an altar in their home on November 1 and 2, when it’s believed that the spirits of their loved ones return to Earth to visit family. While Day of the Dead altars range from simple tables to elaborate multi-level styles, all of them incorporate the same traditional ingredients:
1. Flor de Muerto: Meaning “Flower of the Dead”, brightly colored marigolds are sold throughout Mexico markets during this holiday to decorate day of the dead altars and even graves. They’re believed to help guide spirits back to Earth.
2. Pan de Muerto: Meaning “Bread of the Dead”, this sugary loaf of bread can be found in any supermarket and even some restaurants in the days leading up to Day of the Dead. It has a round shape and is topped with symbols representing bones.
3. Candles: To light the way for spirits to find their way to the altar.
4. Papel Picado: You may have seen this colorful decorative paper strung over Mexico streets on other popular holidays, but it’s also used to decorate Day of the Dead altars.
5. Calaveritas: The famous sugar skulls represent deceased family members. They can be found in Mexico markets and supermarkets in a variety of sizes and designs.
6. Food and Drink: Family members place the deceased’s favorite snacks, meals and drinks on the altar so they can feast when they return to Earth.
7. Photo of the Deceased: A framed image of the deceased loved one is placed on the altar in their honor.