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Get Some Ofrenda Inspo with These Altars Honoring Our Ancestors for Día de los Muertos

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.

Credit: voladormexico / Instagram

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.

Credit: sofia_anika / Instagram

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.

Credit: hou_bou  / Instagram

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

Credit: tizmtz / Instagram

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.

Credit: 67mach1 / Instagram

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.

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.  

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.

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.

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.  

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.

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.

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.

Credit: abc7vista / Instagram

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.

Credit: alba_aube_baez / Instagram

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.

Credit: ccritztheatre / Instagram

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.

Credit: mexicolin / Instagram

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.

Credit: artelexia / Instagram

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.

Credit: miriamsalgado78 / Instagram

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.

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.”

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. 


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Now You Can Throw Your Own Coco-Themed Party Thanks to Etsy

Decor - Get Inspired

Now You Can Throw Your Own Coco-Themed Party Thanks to Etsy

I was recently rewatching Coco on Netflix for what felt like the 1,000th time when I realized that I really, really want to honor the movie more. And by “honor” I mean that I want to throw myself a Coco-themed birthday party for my next birthday. I’m going to be 33 years old. But I think that just goes to show what universal appeal this beautiful story has. And, unsurprisingly, when I went down the internet rabbit hole to see if anyone else felt like I did, I found that I was certainly not the only one.

If you’ve ever thought about throwing a Coco-themed party, whether it’s for your own birthday or the party of the kids in your life, then what are you waiting for? Thanks to Etsy, I’ve been able to find the 20 cutest Coco party decorations, favors and more. So no matter what your favorite scene is from the movie, you can now have a little extra Coco in your life. And you know the best part? Most of these decorations don’t have to be reserved just for a party. So, enjoy!

1. Coco Birthday Shirt for Kids

Etsy

The first thing you’ll want to get for your Coco-themed birthday party is one of these custom t-shirts. They can have whatever age you want, plus a name. And the best part? They actually come in three different colors so that you can pick exactly how you want them.

2. Printable Coco Altar Character Photos

Etsy

If you’re setting up for a big party, then you will definitely want to recreate a Coco-style altar in your home. These photos come in handy to help you set up and keep the party moving. It’s certainly going to look pretty, anyway.

3. Coco Inspired Mask

Etsy

If you’re hoping to dress like some of your favorite Coco characters, then look no further! These adorable masks are the way to go. The good thing is that you (and the little ones) will have plenty to pick from with these outfits.

4. Coco Favor Bags

Etsy

Any party needs to end with some party favors, amirite? Well, if you’re doing something for Coco, then you will want some Coco-themed baggies to pack up your goodies into. There are three different colors so you have plenty of options.

5. Coco Theme Family Shirts 

Etsy

If you’re planning to throw a Coco-themed party, then you are going to need something to wear, right? Well, these family shirts are pretty perfect. You probably shouldn’t be surprised if you end up wearing it more than just for the party.

6. Coco Disney Cupcake Toppers

Etsy

If you’re planning to make dessert for the Coco party, then can I suggest cupcakes? They’re everyone’s favorite because you can have an entire mini cake for yourself… And, of course, it can be super cute thanks to these Coco cupcake toppers.

7. Papel Picado Coco Fiesta Banner

Etsy

One of the party decorations you’ll definitely want is to have a banner, and what better banner than this papel picado with Coco characters? It’s absolutely adorable and I wouldn’t be surprised if you end up leaving it hung up around the house long after those party guests have left.

8. Disney Coco Photo Booth Props

Etsy

If you are planning to throw a party, then you will need evidence of the festivities. And by that, I mean fun photos, of course! Your photos will be made even cuter with these photo booth props. Sure, you might not have an actual photo booth, but you will surely enjoy these.

9. 32″ Miguel Coco Birthday Party Balloon

Etsy

It’s not a party without balloons and, of course, you need a big old Miguel balloon for your Coco-themed festivities. This balloon will have all of the kiddies at your party totally freaking out because of how CUTE it is.

10. Coco Birthday Party Invitation

Etsy

Every party begins with an invitation. If you’re planning to do a Coco-themed party, then you need Coco-themed invitations. This adorable party invite is just perfect for whoever is the guest of honor, whether they’re turning 6 or 26.

11. Coco Centerpieces

Etsy

Every party needs more decorations than just balloons and streamers, right? Well, these centerpieces are just the thing. Whether you have one big table for everyone invited or a bunch of little tables, the centerpieces will make it feel just like the movie.

12. Coco Inspired Disney Tutu

Etsy

If your little princess is the one having a birthday, then you simply must get this adorable Coco tutu. And even if she’s not, then you might want to get this tutu anyway because it’s just that cute. And, um, maybe they make adult sizes, too?

13. Coco Inspired Guitar

Etsy

Everyone knows that Coco is all about that magical guitar and what it means. Well, now you can have your very own guitar for the party! It’s an adorable addition to any party or, really, any home.

14. Coco Birthday Party Banner

Etsy

Make your party really stand out with this BIG, customizable banner. You can write whatever you want on it and the party will be that much better because of it. Just don’t forget to get those papel picado banners too, since they will perfectly go with this banner.

15. Coco Cookies

Etsy

Okay, I already told you about Coco cupcakes… but what about Coco cookies, too? They’re absolutely irresistible but I would highly encourage you to take all of your Instagram pictures early because these are guaranteed to go fast.

16. Disney Coco Figures

Etsy

Just like you’ll want to decorate your house with Coco-themed banners, centerpieces and balloons, you’ll also probably want to have the Coco characters around the house. These figurines can be placed everywhere as part of the decorations or, better yet, be put into those cute favor bags for the kiddies to take home.

17. Coco Letters and Numbers 

Etsy

Another great decoration for your home is these cute cut-out letters that are Coco-themed. Just like the banner, you can create letters and shapes that fit your party needs. And the best part is that you can use these in the future for many things, so it’s kind of a win-win.

18. Coco Digital Paper

Etsy

I’m not entirely sure what this Coco digital paper is for except that you can use it for basically anything. You can create activities or you can use it to wrap presents or you can just decorate with it. Whatever you choose, though, it’ll look pretty amazing.

19. Coco Birthday Party Balloon 

Etsy

I mentioned that adorable Miguel balloon but you didn’t think that I would keep it to just one, did you? These Coco balloons are the perfect way to decorate for any party and the good news is that there’s a bunch of them, so your house will be filled with the beauty and wonder.

20. Coco Custom Cake Topper

Etsy

Last but not least, your guest of honor will need their very own Coco-themed cake. Whether that’s you (hey, no shame!) or the little person in your life, they will love this adorable (and customizable) cake topper.

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Walking With The Dead On Día de Los Muertos

El Amor

Walking With The Dead On Día de Los Muertos

On Día de los Muertos, we respect and honor the dead. But it’s a hard day for me to celebrate in the Bay Area, when the dead and soon to be dead walk around me. When I see ofrendas for Alex Nieto, he reminds me of my uncle, with his 49ers jersey and his belief: I grew up here, I belong here, no one can take that away from me. Or, when I see that after 46 years, Galería De La Raza will be evicted as if anyone has the right to evict culture, evict spirit, evict the people who built La Mission. Still, now when I see parts of my life, culture, and home taken from me and the community I grew up in I often find myself wondering what is there to celebrate. Is Día de los Muertos for the living, or a prayer to take us away from the land of the walking dead?

These days, I try to let go of what Día de los Muertos has come to mean in the United States. Instead, I hold onto what it means in Mexico. It’s a rebirth, and a day to remember those who we will always carry with us.

The week my abuela was taken away from us, she visited us twice.

My tía and I were two ghosts watching Pedro Almodovar’s film, “Habla Con Ella,” (Talk to Her) in my tia’s bed. We were wrapped like two swaddled babies in perfectly crisp linen sheets, neatly stacked upon each other like layers of a pastel de tres leches, and topped with an intricate, multi colored quilt. It smelled just like my abuela’s bed; of detergent, talcum powder, and lily of the valley. A perfume you could never bottle.

In the film we were watching two lovers realize it’s the end of their relationship. But, before they breakup beneath a veranda under the Spanish sky, the Brazilian singer and guitarist Caetano Veloso serenades them:

Dicen que por las noches                         

No mas se le iba en puro llorar               

Dicen que no comía…

My aunt began mouthing the words, “No mas se le iba en puro tomar.” And as I looked at her, I could see her as a little girl, singing the words of a song her mother taught her. “This was your abuela’s favorite song,” she told me.

“Cucurrucucu Paloma.”

When I get visions of my grandmother, she comes to me like a white dove. When you see a white dove — it’s as if it clears the sky. As if its wings are backlit by a cloudless cielo. Turtle doves are often associated with romance. For me, I think of magic and my abuela. I think of her green thumb, and the jasmine blossoms, and the lemon tree that sprung from it. That lemon tree gave us fruit all year round. These are the things I dreamed of when Paloma Blanca, or white dove, first visited my family.

Later, I sat with my mama and tía at La Taqueria, one of my abuela’s favorite spots in the Mission. As we ate our tacos, yet another one of my abuela’s favorite songs came on the jukebox. My mama and tia burst into tears and ran out of the taqueria, tacos uneaten. I followed them out onto that Mission street that felt like a skeleton of what it was in my youth.

Instead of paleterias, we got tasting menus. Instead of affordable housing, we got luxury condos. Instead of life, we got death.

“Cucurrucucu Paloma” is a song about a husband mourning his wife leaving him.

He spends his nights looking for her and crying in the home they once shared together. After his death, he is reborn as a dove that coos every morning, searching for her.

That is quite literally the story. But that story is not real to me. So, I have given the song a different meaning.

In my reinterpretation, the song is about a husband who never appreciated his wife. He spends his nights in the cantina and out with other women. One night, she dies of a broken heart. And her spirit haunts him in the form of a dove. That dove visits him every morning and sings for him. He sings back to her, asking her for forgiveness, and begging to join her. Instead, she pays her daily visits and her songs sound more like cries.

We are all haunted by voices no one else can hear.

Sometimes the soul of a person appears to you.

Sometimes it’s her presence you feel, cooking alongside you. Other times, it’s in a dream.

For me and my family, my abuela often appeared as an animal. My tía had the world’s sweetest, most capricciosa chihuahua, Lolita. She was a cloud of thin white fur, with two light brown patches, and eyes the color of unrefined cane sugar, piloncillo. Whenever we made eye-contact, she’d wriggle towards me, and slide onto my shoulder, her head pressed against my heart.

I was able to make little cries, chiadas, that sounded like puppy cries. I would whimper as loudly as I could, and Lolita would join me, and she would tell me her penas, her worries. My whole family would laugh as I hugged Lola and the two of us told each other secrets no one else understood.

I loved that little dog and always thought: what a gift to have my favorite creature visit me twice in one lifetime. What a gift to understand her cries.

“Cucurrucucu Paloma” was originally written by the Mexican songwriter Tomás Méndez for the ranchera singer, Lola Beltrán in the 1950s.

Photo provided by Michelle Threadgould

It is a classic mariachi song covered by everyone from Joan Baez to the Chilean jazz singer, Camila Meza.

But no one quite owns the song like Caetano. In 2014, I saw him perform for the first time at the Hollywood Bowl. He was 71, with the same brushed-back, all white hair of my abuela, and the same seventies style glasses. And yet, even in his seventies, he possessed the energy of David Byrne, who dances, improvises, and keeps his performers on their toes as he makes it clear: this stage is mine.

Juran que el mismo cielo

Se estremecía al oír su llanto

Cómo sufrió por ella

Y hasta en su muerte la fue llamando

Like the character in “Cucurrucucu Paloma,” waiting for their dove, we all leaned in to hear his song. But in this canto of memory and longing, I didn’t feel the suffering. Instead, a song that had once helped me to process lost worlds had new meaning. It was a tribute, a calling in of the ancestors, and I could feel her presence there in the open amphitheater. As Caetano danced onstage, I knew that she was quietly shuffling next to me, and would be for as long as I could appreciate her song.

This year, for Día de los Muertos, I will light a Saint Judas candle for my abuela.

Photo provided by Michelle Threadgould

I will play “Cucurrucucu Paloma,” and Selena, and Nirvana Unplugged. My abuela used to call Kurt Cobain a living Jesus, and sometimes I think faith is inherited, because I still believe her.

On her ofrenda, filled with marigolds and sugar skulls, I will write a prayer, a spell: May we hold onto what is left of our culture. May La Mission live on. May we never feel like the walking dead in our home.

Amen.


Read: Get Some Ofrenda Inspo with These Altars Honoring Our Ancestors for Día de los Muertos

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