Dia de los Muertos Altar Contest

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Day of the Dead : Altar Building Guideline

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Things to know before getting started

  • You must provide your own material including tables and chairs .
  • You will be assigned an altar space inside the Cultural Center .
  • If possible, have someone at your altar to explain the inspiration and meaning of your altar and why you chose to be involved in this event.

  • Event Hours are 6pm-10pm on Wednesday November 2nd , 2022.We suggest faux candles, flameless candles or electronic candles for altars. Any items left unattended are not the responsibility of the event producers where your altar is situated.

  • Your altar must be built and ready to be judged by Wednesday November 2nd, 2022.

    • All altars must be taken down no later than Thursday November 3rd, 2022. Any altars or materials left behind will be dispose.

One of the key elements of Día de los Muertos revolves around ofrendas, or offerings, which are created through a visual display of altar-making and grave-decorating. The offerings, a main focal point of the observance, echo the dedication and distinct love that is presented toward the dearly departed. Altars can be created through a wide spectrum of dedications, depending on one’s creative desire. The altar includes the four main elements of nature: earth, wind, water, and fire.

There are no absolute rules for creating your altar, however, tradition does provide guidelines.

  1. Photos of the deceased relatives and/or saints of particular importance to the family are placed/ displayed on the altar. Some Old Town sites are making altars for the historic people associated with their particular site.
  2. Candles are always present on altars; these can be flameless candles or electronic candles. Candles can be different shapes, sizes, and designs.
  3. Food - The honored person’s favorite food (i.e. candy, favorite dish, favorite drink, etc.) is left at the altar for the dead to eat when they come to visit. Common is Pan de Muertos (Bread of the Dead), which represent the souls of the dead. Most of the bread loaves are shaped as ovals (said to be the shape of one’s soul), though each loaf may vary with different ingredients and decorations. In some parts of Mexico, the bread may be shaped as humans or animals. Other foods associated with Day of the Dead include mole and tamales, salt, sugar, corn, squash, sugar skulls, beans, cocoa and chocolate, oranges and other fruit, atole (corn drink), bread, and chilis; as well as sweets for children.
  4. Flowers, which symbolize the brief life of man, are used as an offering on the altars. Yellow and orange marigolds, known as “the flower of the dead,” and other fragrant flowers are used to communicate to the spirits the richness of the offering. Sometimes paths of marigold petals are created to aid the souls in finding their way home.
  5.  Skeleton motifs, sugar skulls, dolls, and toys are made for living children. The common symbol of the holiday is the skull, which is celebrated and represented by decorative masks called calacas. In addition, sugar skulls are also tastefully created and inscribed with the names of both the honored and living recipients on the forehead as a means to remind us of our own mortality. Thus, the child’s acquaintance with death is a cheerful one.
  6.  The Elements
    • Earth is represented by the crop - The various earthly aromas feed the soul. Placing fruit or favorite family dishes on the altar provides nourishment for the beloved souls.
      • Wind is represented by a moving object - Paper Mache is commonly utilized to represent the echoes of the wind.
      • Water is placed in a container for the soul to quench its thirst after the long awaited journey to the altar. Water is also used as a means of purification.
      • Fire is represented by a wax candle - Each lit candle represents a loving soul, and an extra one is placed for the forgotten soul.
  7. Colors
    • Purple - Signifies pain, suffering, grief, and mourning
    • Pink - Celebration
    • White - Purity and hope
    • Orange - Sun
    • Red - The blood of life
    • Yellow - Cempazuchitl are marigolds that symbolize death. Petals are used to make a trail so that the spirits can see the path to their altars.
  8. Personal Items
    • A child’s toys
    • Tools of a person’s trade
    • Items used each day
    • Serapes
    • Guitars or drums
  9. Papel Picado - Colorful tissue paper is cut into intricate designs and strung to flutter over and around the altar.