pre hispanic ofrenda

Day of the Dead: A Beginner’s Guide to Ofrendas

This is Ofrendas

Day of the dead, celebrated on the 1st and 2nd of November, has arrived! This is a holiday that means so much to Mexicans, and to experience it in person is really quite something. Day of the dead is pretty intricate, there are many layers to it that I am sure take years to fully understand. I am going to be writing a couple posts over the next days to try and give you an insight into this absolutely fantastic time of year. Puebla is a great place to visit during the week of day of the dead as they put on lots of interesting events in the historical center as well as in cemeteries around the city. The photos in this post were all taken from the ‘Corredor de ofrendas‘, and from ‘Casa de la Cultura‘ (located right next to the cathedral).

There are a lot of key words that come to mind when you are experiencing day of the dead such as ‘calaveras‘, ‘la catrina‘ and maybe most importantly: ofrendas. The point of day of the dead, or at least how I understand it anyway, is to honor the deceased and welcome them back into your home. Mexicans celebrate death and remember their loved ones, rather than shying away from a topic that I think in many cultures is uncomfortable to talk about.

The ofrenda is the offering to the dead, an altar in fact. It is used to welcome back loved ones from the dead, for example grandparents. An ofrenda traditionally has levels to it though it’s perfectly normal to just have a one level ofrenda. I’m not an ofrenda expert but I don’t think there is a wrong way of doing an ofrenda. Yes there are key elements put if you are missing something don’t worry. The point is to capture the personality of the person(s) your ofrenda is for whilst making sure it has plenty of Mexican character. You will never find two ofrendas the same, each one is unique.

This is what you will usually find on an ofrenda (and its significance):

  • Food and Drink: the ofrenda should have the favourite food and drink of the person(s) you are welcoming. That’s why you will often see candy, tequila and beer.
  • A Mirror: this is so the person(s) can see themselves when they visit your ofrenda.
  • Their Vices: it’s normal to find the thing that actually killed the person, for example, cigarettes.
  • A Picture or representation of the deceased person(s): this is normally a framed picture or a skeleton figure.
  • Flor de Cempasúchil (the orange flower): represents the eternal life of the dead and often is used as a trail to the ofrenda so the dead can find it.
  • Candles: represent fire and are a pathway for the spirits.
  • Water: represents life and also quenches the dead’s thirst.
  • Pan de Muerto/ Hojaldra: Day of the Dead bread that represents the bodies of the dead.
  • Skulls: Calaveras (in spanish) represent death and earth.
  • Papel Picado: the colour paper with different patterns on it represents wind (and add to the colourfulness of the ofrenda).

Now you know everything (or at least a lot more than you did before) about ofrendas! If you are feeling inspired make one and send us a picture (the youngest of the dead will visit you on the night of the 1st of November and the oldest on the 2nd). Or if you already have your ofrenda, send us a picture and we will share it on our facebook and twitter pages!

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