Mexican Traditions: The Day of the Dead Alter


One of the most recognizable aspects of the day of the dead, aside from the face painting, is the elaborate Mexican altars during the weeks leading up to the big celebration. The Day of Dead altars gather all of the essential elements that are needed to receive your loved ones who’ve passed on. It is believed that the spirits of your ancestors return on All Saints’ Day and the Day of the Faithful Dead so that we will not ever forget them and their legacy can live on.


There are Day of the Dead altars of all shapes and sizes, with numerous and unique objects that adorn them. The items on the altar and the decorations depend on the region of Mexico and the economic status and taste of those who create the Day of the Dead offering. Here are the most traditional and cultural elements of these offering tables (“ofrendas”) and their meaning.


The 2-tier Altar

The 2-tier altar is a representation of heaven and earth. The altar is based on thanking the earth for the fruits provided and the sky for the blessings it gives us, like the rain.


3-Tier Day of the Dead Altar

In its original version, this type of altar represents the sky, earth and the underworld. European influence later gave it another meaning: the kingdom of heaven, earth and purgatory. Catholicism then gave it yet another meaning: The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit.


7-Level Altar

This is the most common altar of the dead. You’ll see these with a more detailed and sometimes monumental elaboration. The most accepted meaning is the representation of the seven deadly sins through their steps. This according to the Otomí indigenous Mexican people. For the Aztecs, who already celebrate the Day of the Dead, the seven represents the number of destinations that exist for death.


The Altar Elements

Water: Water is a source of life and is offered to the deceased to quench their thirst.

Candles in glasses: Candles provide the light that guides the souls to this world.

Brightly Colored Paper: the colorful confetti represents the wind and festive atmosphere.

Flowers: The marigold flowers are the most used type of flower, with them a path that guides the souls is formed.

Pan de Muerto: the round shape of the bread represents the cycle of life and death. The bread is also adorned with a cross of dough that represents the bones and a small flattened sphere on the top that represents the skull.

Food: The family places the favored foods of their loved ones as a welcome.

Clothing: Usually the deceased's clothes are placed on the altar in addition to other personal objects as a reminder of who they were in life.

Framed Photos: You can never miss the photographs of the ancestors atop the altars of the dead so that those who did not know him or her in life will know to whom the offering is dedicated. This is without a doubt, the most important part of the day of the dead offerings! 


We invite you to join us for the Day of the Dead celebrations this year at Mantamar and on the famous Los Muertos beach. You can see the colorful and festive décor all over Puerto Vallarta. Stroll along the Malecón to see some of our most favorite traditions! Make sure to visit our events page or follow us on Instagram to stay on top of all of our upcoming events and activities for your gaycation in paradise!


Photo: Es Mas


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