Día de los Muertos has been celebrated since the days of the Aztecs. It’s Indigenous roots are still strong. However, the holiday has evolved to incorporate Christian imagery as it’s become more mainstream. In fact, the celebration has become extremely popular, with Día de los Muertos parties held all over the world.
Though Día de los Muertos has grown, the tradition of building ofrendas to our deceased loved ones is still going strong.
Ofrendas— or offerings— are ritualistic shrines that honor deceased loved ones. While usually bold and sentimental, ofrendas can take on any shape or size. These shrines are highly personalized for each loved one, too. The shrines feature things an ancestor loved during life. Each ofrenda is unique and beautifully embodies the spirit of Día de los Muertos. Moreover, there’s no one way to build an ofrenda.
Here are twenty gorgeous ofrendas from around the Latinidad.
1. This Ofrenda featuring a giant Catrina.
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Ofrendas often feature colorful and vibrant skulls. Whether made of sugar, glass, or paper, these skulls are sugnificant; symbolizing the dead who journey back to the land of the living once a year. The most icon of these skeleton personalities is La Calavera Catrina.
2. An outdoor altar to those on their otherworldly journey.
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Observers of Día de los Muertos believe our loved ones continue life in the spiritual realm. As they enjoy their otherworldly lives, they are separated from the land of the living by a thin veil. On Día de los Muertos, this veil is lifted and loved ones are able to check in on their mortal families.
3. La Virgen de Guadalupe rests on this ofrenda.
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In order to incorporate Aztec and Catholic beliefs, many ofrendas feature Christian iconography. Día de los Muertos isn’t a Christian festival. However, like with Santeria, ideologies are blended into a unique celebration of beliefs. Statues and images of the Virgin of Guadalupe, angels, santos, and Jesus are often added to alters.
4. Colores y flores
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Ofrendas are often extremely colorful. Like this alter, most feature bright papel picado banners and Aztec (or Mexican) marigolds. Whether fresh or made from silk, these flowers are a staple on alters across Latin America. Aztec marigolds are such a staple of Día de los Muertos that children are often taught to make them out of tissue paper to contribute to ofrendas.
5. This first place ofrenda.
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Ofrenda competitions have become common in communities that celebrate Día de los Muertos. The holiday has become so mainstream that festivals, marathons, parties and art shows are held every year. These events not only honor our ancestors but often introduce new people to the culture and beliefs of the Latinidad.
6. An ofrenda full of offerings.
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Left to tempt those on the other side, fruit is often added to ofrendas. Fresh fruit, artificial fruit, and fruit made from candied marzipan can be found at these alters. These offerings are not necessarily for the dead to eat but are there to lure them to their shrines.
7. An ofrenda in progress.
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Many household ofrendas are built over the course of several days. More details are added to the altar up until Día de los Muertos. Celebrations for the Day of the Dead can last many days so these shrines are often showcased in homes and the public for several weeks up to the holiday and beyond.
8. An altar full of cempasuchitl.
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Cempasuchitl, or Aztec marigolds, signal the departed spirits to their ofrendas. Like the offerings of food, the Aztec marigolds are meant to attract spirits with their earthly-appeal. The vibrant color and bold perfume of cempasuchitl tempt departed souls just as much as their favorite foods.
9. This massive Puebla ofrenda.
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Ofrendas can be any shape or size. There are some ofrendas that are so massive that they reach towards the heavens. Additionally, ofrendas can be small and portable enough slip in your purse and take with you on the go. This gorgeous ofrenda filled with flowers, plant and fruit is several feet long and filled with alluring offerings.
10. Dedicated to those who died delivering truth and knowledge.
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Besides ofrendas para la familia, Día de los Muertos observes sometimes build shrines to honor specfic deaths. This ofrenda remembers journalists from around the world who died out in the field. Considering the current climate of hostility towards the new media, this ofrenda is especially significant. Unfortunately, alters like this could become more plentiful if this hatred continues.
11. Pan muerte for los Muertos.
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Offerings of food are another staple during Día de los Muertos. To tempt other-worldly sweet tooths, pan muerte is left on ofrendas as a snack for visiting spirits. Left over food that hasn’t gone bad after the festival can be eaten by observers. However, since it has been eaten by the dead in the spirit world, this food is said to have no taste remaining.
12. An ofrenda for Frida.
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Famous figureheads from music, art, media and politics also have shrines built in their honor during Día de los Muertos. The famous Mexican artist, Frida Kahlo has hundreds of ofrendas dedicated to her every year. Though she has been dead nearly 65 years, she is still remembered in these ofrendas.
13. Fit for a Prince.
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Our communities often build ofrendas to honor favorite celebrities. For example, this one is dedicated to the late musician Prince. The belief is that as long as your picture is on an ofrenda, you are remembered and allowed to visit the land of the living. In the tradition of Día de los Muertos, being forgotten is equal to an absolute death.
14. In honor of Mexican star Mária Félix.
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Mexican film actress and singer Mária Félix was a huge star during the 1940s and 1950s. There’s no doubt that she inspired Latina actresses in a time when Latinx people weren’t considered movie star material. To honor her accomplishments and celebrate her life, fans all over Mexico still make ofrendas to immortalize her.
15. This “Ritzy” display.
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During Dia de los Muertos, public spaces often feature themed alters to welcome the spirits of famous dead people. Additionaly, spirits don’t have to be from the Latinidad in order to participate in the holiday. For example, this themed ofrenda is dedicated to the stars of Old Hollywood. The spirits of stars like Ingrid Bergman and James Dean just might visit this alter.
16. A candlelit ofrenda.
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In addition to shrines at home, offerings are taken to the grave on the Day of the Dead. Bathed in candlelight, offerings are lit up to attract deceased loved ones during the evening hours. Votive candles and incense are used to send prayers and wishes to spirits. All in all, it makes for a gorgeous sight whether you’re living or one of the dead.
17. Dedicated to a deceased mother.
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This ofrenda was a group effort dedicated to a community member’s mother. If a valued community member passes away their neighborhood may build a public offering. Clearly, these public representations of love and remembrance can be just as important for the living as they are for the deceased.
18. This hauntingly beautiful public ofrenda.
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Día de los Muertos has become such a widespread holiday that public areas— like restaurants and shops— often build ofrendas of their own. Huge installations often welcome additions of pictures, food or items to their own alters. Don’t worry if a deceased person appears on more than one ofrend. Undoubtedly, spirits are able to visit all offerings calling to them.
19. A natural offering.
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Public ofrendas often incorporate the natural elements into their alter in addition to decorations. In many ways, these ofrendas are a merger of the spiritual and the natural. Natural stone and metals, plants, succulents, native flowers and animal imagery were important details in the artwork of the Aztecs.
20. An ofrenda that says “Recuérdame.”
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Extremely elaborate ofrendas can take weeks of planning and execution. For example, this one shows a beautiful dedication to honoring a loved one. Moreover, with its skulls, food, candles, papel picado, Aztec marigolds and Catholic imagery, this ofrenda has very component typical of these shrines to our dead.