Wanting to make a Day of the Dead altar? Check out my first ofrenda and helpful links. If you live in Mexico City, Mercado Sonora is a great place to go for Dia de los Muertos supplies.
Since I can remember, Halloween has always been my fav holiday. In the past decade or so, Mexico (more cities than others) has adopted and incorporated Halloween into their calendars and picked up on the goulish, scary USAmerican traditions of pumpkins and trick-or-treating Unfortunately, as the years develop, so does Halloween’s influence on Mexico which has resulted in less emphasis on the folklore of Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). So, in order to embrace the true Mexican lifestyle and traditions, I decided to create my first ofrenda and Day of the Dead altar.
In a nutshell, if you don’t know about Dia de los Muertos, it is a joyous and vibrant observance when people honor family and friends who have passed away. On the days of November 1st and 2nd, it is believed the souls of the deceased return to earth . In order to make them feel welcomed back home, altars and shrines are created and decorated with an offertory of foods and fruits, incense, candy skulls, flowers and candles. Check out Mexico Today’s article which goes a little more in depth without being too boring.
In preparation for designing my first altar, I started with some research on the significance and what all the elements mean. A simple ‘How to make a Day of the Dead altar‘ google search brought me to all the information I needed to know. Once I made my list, I headed to Mercado Sonora located in Mexico City’s Barrio Magico, La Merced.
Mercado Sonora sells a variety of things; most prominently is pottery, party favors, herbal medicine, black magic items and live animals. Need a peacock and a good limpia- Mercado Sonora is the place to go! I read on trusty wikipedia that during October, the Sonora Market transforms many of its aisle-ways to offer all items related to Day of the Dead and become a one stop shop for altar building.
I visited Mercado Sonora two weeks before the holiday and in typical Mexican spirit, everyone was there to buy their supplies too! The vendors poured out of the market onto the streets and there were so many people it was hard to move. On the sidewalk, I found peddlers selling the most vibrant papel picado and cut-out decorations, and plenty of different designs of sugar skulls and calacas (skeletons). As I began to weave in and out the stalls and into the market, I surprisingly found a lot of Halloween decorations too. The deeper I got into the market, the more I realized that it had converted itself from a traditional Dia de los Muertos market to a Halloween City USA store. I’m not going to lie, I was a little heartbroken. There were more masks, costumes, jack-o-laterns, ghosts, and witches for sale than anything else.
While I was sad to see a heavy Halloween influence in Mexico City, I realized that it does goes both ways. Dia de los Muertos has been becoming more prominent and known in the U.S. and now it is typical for traditional events and cultural exhibitions to be found in all major cities and suburbs.
In the end, I bought all I need for my altar. Everything you see I picked up for about $38 dollars.
To read what the objects on my altar mean to me and who it is dedicated to, check out my interview with The Other Side of the Tortilla here.