Elements of Traditional Day of the Dead Altars

In Culture, Los Cabos, Play by Belen Molina

The Day of the Dead celebration, which takes place on November 2nd, is a very popular Mexican tradition that honors those who have left this world. Families gather and pay tribute to their deceased loved ones by creating beautifully decorated altars. These colorful altars, which have been the subject of contests and exhibitions worldwide, boast symbolic elements, some of which represent air, water, earth and fire.


The element of fire is represented by candles, or veladoras, which are often arranged in the shape of a cross.


The colorful papel picado–which is a decorative craft made out of tissue paper cut into elaborate designs–represents air because it is light and it moves with the wind.


Fruits and flowers represent the element of the earth. It is important to note that the flor de cempasúchil, or marigold, is the predominating flower used in the traditional altars; it is believed that their distinctive aroma and beauty lures the souls of the dead towards the offering. Flowers are often arranged in the shape of a cross or by forming a path that leads to the altar.


No altar is complete without a cup full of water for the soul of the deceased to quench his or her thirst.

Other Important Elements

The traditional Day of the Dead altar usually includes food, beverages, breads, and desserts that were the favorite of the deceased. Traditionally, the food offered usually consists of authentic Mexican food dishes, such as tamales, mole, dulce de Calabaza, and even a shot of tequila. A bowl filled with salt, which serves as a symbol of purification, is also placed on the altar. Likewise, a photograph of the person being honored is often placed at the center of the altar. Another important element often found on most Day of the Dead altars are the traditional calaveritas de azúcar, or sugar skulls; these represent death, and the fact that death can sometimes be sweet and not always grim.

The main objective behind the offering, according to the tradition that dates back to pre-Hispanic times, is to welcome the souls of the deceased, so that from wherever they are, they can still enjoy the same things they did when they were alive. For this reason, it is not unusual to find all types of objects on these altars, from toys in the case of altars dedicated to children, to books, records, and cigarette packets in other cases.

If you would like to marvel at the beauty of colorful altars created by talented artists and businesses from Los Cabos, then you can’t miss this event taking place at Flora Farms on November 2nd. Feliz Día de los Muertos!

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