In Honor Of… Ofrendas and Dia de los Muertos

My youngest is Guatemalan, so my family joyfully weaves in some of the traditions and holidays that are from his culture of origin. They have become ours, us. We celebrate Dia de los Muertos.

On the heels of Halloween (a favorite with my kiddos–all about dressing up and being social with friends), the holiday provides reflection and joy. Some years are "bigger" than others, depending on what my crew wants to express. Similar to millions of Hispanic and Latin American people, we create ofrendas (alters). We may have one that is a collaboration, or there may be multiples throughout our home. The themes vary.

Traditionally ofrendas are fashioned in the days leading up to Dia de los Muertos. These are created to honor those who have passed on. Ofrendas are perhaps considered one of the most important Dia de los Muertos traditions in Mexico and in other Hispanic/Latin American countries (such as Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua) and communities.

Ofrendas are highly individualized and can be modest or elaborate; they are in homes and in public, even in schools and government buildings. Most consist of a minimum of two tiers, characteristically on a draped tabletop. Regardless of the arrangement, ofrendas all contain similar basic elements:

Candles: Lit to welcome the departed back.

Cempasúchitl (Marigolds): The strong fragrance helps the dead find their way back.

Incense: Preferably copal, scent also assist souls on the journeys to the ofrendas.

Salt: represents the continuance of life

Photo of the Deceased: Usually framed and in a prominent spot (center or on wall just above).

Images of Saints or Role Models: Those important to or who impacted the dead.

Pan de Muertos: “Bread of the dead,” a symbol of the departed

Sugar Skulls: Representative of death and the afterlife. These are also given as gifts to the living during Dia de los Muertos

Fresh fruit: family’s choice *

Other Foods and Drink: Whatever the deceased favorites were in addition to the traditional—atole, mole, tamales, and tortillas. *

Water: To quench the thirst of the dead after their long journey. *

Toiletries: So that the departed can freshen up after they reach the ofrendas, including a mirror, brush and/or comb, toothpastes and toothbrush, soap, and towel.

Ceramics, Woven Baskets

Papel Picado: Decorative and bright paper-cuts, draped around the edge of the ofrenda or hung from above.

*The belief is that the souls absorb the energy and aromas of the food, which in turn nourishes their spirit. Family can share the food after the holiday over, however the nutritional value and taste is depleted.

Have you adopted or are you adopting a child(ren) who has Latin American/Hispanic cultural roots? I encourage you to explore the deep culture and richness of your child’s culture of origin and weave some of those aspects into your family’s traditions and celebrations. Join MLJ when we celebrate Dia de los Muertos on Sunday, October 28th, from 2-5pm at our offices. Sign up is here.

Photo Credit: Eneas De Troya

For more information about adoption from a Latin American country, please click here.

MLJ Adoptions is a Non-Profit, Hague-Accredited adoption service provider located in Indianapolis, Indiana, working in Africa, Eastern Europe, Latin America and the Pacific Isles. We are passionate about serving children in need.