If you’ve been following my posts for a while, you may have picked up on the fact that my family is a little bit of everything. I’m Eastern European/Jewish and Scottish (with a couple other things thrown in) and my husband is Mexican and Scottish.
We observe traditional Christian holidays and throw in a scaled down version of Hanukkah and Passover Seder. Our girls are being raised intentionally to appreciate their rich and varied cultural history.
For years, my husband’s cousin (who we’ll just call my cousin because I’ve adopted all of his many cousins as my own and I’m the one who texts with them regularly because he’s a #boy) has created a beautiful ofrenda for Dia De Los Muertos.
If you’ve ever seen Pixar’s Coco you’ll be familiar with this Mexican tradition. Essentially, an ofrenda is an alter meant to honor and guide the spirits of deceased loved ones to permit them to “cross over” from the spirit world on All Saints and All Souls Days (November 1 and November 2).
Keep reading for inspiration on how we’ve brought this tradition into our home over the last few years.
Starting in 2020, we’ve also added this tradition to our family celebration at the request and direction of my now-9-year-old.
I was really excited when she told me she was interested in adding an ofrenda to our home. I think it is a beautiful way to honor our family and friends who have passed on and to keep their memories alive.
In October 2017, we suffered a pregnancy loss and I keep an infant/pregnancy loss ribbon in one of our photo frames on our alter – it’s a really meaningful way to remember as our ofrenda goes up in October which is also Infant and Pregnancy Loss Awareness Month.
We have included the major traditional elements of an ofrenda which are simply explained by Smithsonian Magazine and include marigolds, photos of our deceased loved ones, papel picado, pan de muerto, and sugar skulls (calaveras).
We have also added crosses that my girls painted and a decorative serape just to bring it all together.
Where to shop for building an ofrenda
Around this time of year, I like to visit local markets and local bookstores like Bookman’s in Mesa as they usually have a Dia De Los Muertos display from which we can pick up new things to add to our ofrenda.
We’ve picked up some wonderful books about the celebration, as well, which really helps my now-four-year-old understand the celebration.
We’ve used a combination of Amazon Prime magic, locally sourced goodies, and lovingly homemade items to create our ofrenda.
How we ‘kid/dog proof’ the ofrenda
Since we are solidly a #dogandkidhouse, we also take a little creative license when it comes to candles (we use battery operated tea lights) and we keep our pan de muerto wrapped up in its store plastic to help thwart any dog noses.
Our pan de muerto always comes from El Rancho Market in Chandler and this year we added a new calavera from their Dia De Los Muertos display as well.
How we talk about the ofrenda with our kids
Once we have our ofrenda set up, we take a few minutes each evening to talk about one of our loved ones who have passed.
My kids never got to meet my grandparents and only our 9 year old met her great grandma on her paternal grandmother’s side before she passed away when our daughter was about 18 months old.
This is a really special way to try and create a “relationship” between our kids and their great grandparents.
I can share the stories of my sweet Grandma Yetta who never met a plastic grocery bag she didn’t have to keep, and my husband tells stories of family gatherings at his paternal grandparents’ tiny home in Merced, California.
My kids learn about my Southern spitfire maternal great grandmother who rescued an abused dog by straight-up stealing it out of its yard and my husband’s maternal grandparents who put on dozens of kids’ first pairs of ski boots at the local ski shop in rural Eastern Washington they owned.
These stories are incredibly important to share with our kids and an ofrenda is a beautiful backdrop to these memories.