Dia de los Muertos Altar Inspiration
The Day of the Dead celebration for the Meso-American indigenous people was a kind of thanksgiving for the harvest, the children, and their life, which was the result of the actions taken by their ancestors. It was a private family event, not public.
This celebration happened on the last harvest of the year, and the offering, was to reserve some of their harvest as an offering, that was the sacrifice; giving up something important. They also had cempasuchitl flowers which grew wild and were ready to cut at this time of year, to show the souls their way home. Copal incense to take their gratitude and prayers to the gods in its smoke, salt, and water, for the weary souls of the ancestors, and some kind of torch, fire is sacred. They buried their relatives where they lived, there were no cemeteries.
Spanish fryers saw an opportunity to fuse this thanksgiving to the ancestors with the Catholic celebration of “All Saints Day” of November 1st. and added the All Soul’s Day on Nov. 2nd. making it two days instead of one. This kind of religious fusion was done before with many of the non-Catholic peoples in Europe and central Asia, such as the Celts. In Spain, they started making cookies and candies in the shape of bones of saints. And they still have a large repertoire of confections they eat only during these two days celebration. In Italy they are known as “Ossi dea Morti”. [recipe]
We have “Mother’s Day”, “Father’s Day”, “Independence Day”, and they are dedicated days to honor an ancestor or an event that changed our lives. Some cultures even have offering altars in their businesses too.
An offering “Altar” has the same meaning, but it’s meant to be a family celebration, in private dedicated to the people we loved and are no longer with us, an ancestor, a child, a friend even. It does not have to be overwhelming, a small corner set up will make you feel that you made a sacrifice of your time and effort to remember your ancestors, we all have pictures of people we love, candles, a little dish with salt, a glass of water, incense, flowers. You can customize your “Altar” according to your own creativity.
Well, cemeteries are a new thing, the Catholic Church banned the burial of people in their residence backyards, because it was a health hazard, and they added a tax for burial services. Rich people were buried inside the church, and the others in the atrium, the big open space outside the church. So, when people had to place their offerings on the graves of their love ones in the cemetery, it became a public celebration of people even strangers sharing stories; some would bring a guitar to serenade their love one.
Talking to others about the lives of your ancestors, their struggles, their adventures, their lives, seems to bring them back to life, as if they are sharing in the conversation.