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How to celebrate this Dia de los Muertos

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November 1 is a time to remember, honor and pass on traditions.

Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead, is a holiday originating in Mexico and is celebrated November 1.

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Celebrate Dia de los Muertos with an alter this year.

Celebrate Dia de los Muertos with an alter this year.


Catholic Online (
10/30/2017 (3 years ago)

Published in Marriage & Family

Keywords: Dia de los Muertos, remember, Catholic, altars

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The Day of the Dead is often celebrated with ofrenda, altars honoring those who have passed on.

Many who create ofrenda in their homes include pictures of their lost loved one(s), candles, offerings of the deceased loved one(s)' favorite foods, incense and more.

Most altars include items that remind people of their passed loved one(s) and having the items on display serves as a beautiful memorial to them.

When children pass, it is common to find small toys and candy at their graves and in the ofrenda, most adults are offered small amounts of alcohol.

Though many have celebrated with sugar skulls and Dia de los Muertos costumes, the actual day is a deeply personal time when families relive bittersweet memories of their loved ones.

"It's a time for us to stop and remember all those who have gone before us marked by faith," Sr. Ginger Downey, the director of the Office of Worship and Liturgy, explained.

Some families visit their loved ones' graves and clean or repair headstones and plaques.

Catholic schools offer ways to celebrate passed loved ones, such as making ceramic pottery, creating pieces of art, or coloring pictures.

"You will see images of death, but in a colorful or comical form," Karen Sotelo, a Spanish teacher who organizes St. Theresa School's Dia de los Muertos celebration, explained. "It's nothing to be fearful about death because of Christ's resurrection."

Sr. Ginger described: "If you look at it, it's laughing at death. Our faith tells us there's something greater than that There's also a glimmer of hope in that one day we too will join the other side and be with those we love."

Because it is a time of spirituality and remembrance, a home or cemetery altar is often made to honor those who have moved to the next life. They do not need to be flashy - though many are beautifully decorated.

If you'd like to make an altar for your loved ones this year, there are several simple ways to do so.

Traditionally, the altars are built prior to November 1 on a table top used exclusively for the ofrenda.

Remember loved ones with a Dia de los Muertos alter this year.

Remember loved ones with a Dia de los Muertos alter this year (JosEnriqueCC).

Most have two tiers, though more or less is fine. Each tier is draped with a cloth, paper or plastic covering and an arch of marigolds are often erected above.

The marigolds symbolize death and they offer a strong fragrance, which traditionally was known to help "lead the dead back to their altars." The flowers grow and wilt quickly, symbolizing how fleeting life is.

Candles are lit at the altars to represent a form of welcome to the memory of the spirits lost. Incense is sometimes used as well, though you should choose carefully if marigolds will already be present. You don't want your home to smell bad!

Images of your passed loved ones should be erected in spots of honor on the altar. Sugar skulls are symbolic of death and the afterlife. They are not given as gifts to the living so are only placed on the altar.

Water, fruit juice or alcohol are also placed on the altars to help "refresh" a spirit after its journey.

Fresh fruits and other snacks or meals the loved one enjoyed are also made and kept on the altar - the more perishable items should be placed on the altar November 1 or replaced each day until the Dia de los Muertos.

Mementos and items the person once enjoyed or owned can also be laid on the altar, as well as images of saints who played a large role in your loved ones' lives.

Rosaries, crucifixes and images of the Blessed Virgin are also encouraged, as well as an image of Christ.

If you don't have much room to spare, a miniature altar can be created inside an open shoe box laid on its side. Some have decorated small Christmas trees adorned with LED candles, images of the deceased, Christ, saints and crucifixes, with small mementos at its base.

Many altars are also created with the deceased's personality in mind. Perhaps they loved watching television, so an old hallowed-out TV is used to make the altar.

After erecting the altar, take time to talk about your loved one(s). Remember them in their youth, in their joy and for the great things they accomplished.

Appreciate them and honor their memory. Pray for their souls and take a moment to pray for the family as well.


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