Altares: a Dia de los Muertos Tradition

Altar for Marsha Powell by April Edwards

A central part of El Dia de los Muertos (day of the dead) celebrations is the altar. Traditionally, altars are placed in family homes and they are dedicated to loved ones who have passed on. Creative people have brought this tradition into public spaces by creating public altars in art galleries, parks, and other venues. These artistic altars can still be dedicated to loved ones, but they can also be dedicated to celebrities and public figures who have recently died. Some artists use altars to make statements, or to comment on current events. They have shown that it’s possible to honor traditions while creating new artistic expressions.

If you want to build your own altar, there are a few essential elements: candles, flowers (marigolds, real or plastic, are traditional),  papel picado, pan de  muerto, photos of the person or people the altar is dedicated to, and mementos that remind you of those people (favorite foods, drinks, jewelry, or anything else).

You can see examples of public altars at the Xico galeria, our Dia de los Muertos festival on Nov 5th, and at the Phoenix Public Library.

The Arizona Republic has a great diagram of a traditional altar here. And they even have a shopping list for where to buy items for your altar here.