Hi there! My name is Jessica and I coordinate the altars at the Santa Ana Dia de los Muertos Festival, Viva La Vida. Since 2009, my husband and I have participated as altar builders in other local day of the dead celebrations creating altars for our loved ones who have departed. It is a day spent paying tribute to our family and friends, and surrounding ourselves with memories dear to our hearts. It has always been a very special day for our family and we hope that this event offers the same for you. We are very excited to walk the beautiful altars at this year’s event.
The celebration of love and life is deeply rooted in Hispanic culture. At an early age you are taught that life is sacred and the spirit of our loved ones remain among us long after they have passed. Growing up in a Hispanic home you will make regular trips to the cemetery to visit the graves of your family and spend time with them, as though you were visiting their home. This celebration of love and life extends beyond a visit to the cemetery; a life is also remembered by dedicating an altar in your loved ones honor. The day of the dead is a celebration of life and lifting up the memories of our loved ones. By building an altar, you invite your loved ones to enjoy your offerings, celebrate their love and provide them with the strength to carry on their voyage.
A traditional altar incorporates elements of the heavens, the earth, air, water and fire. Each carries an important meaning and fulfills a special purpose. The altar itself is made up of multiple tiers of two or more.
An arch represents the pathway traveled by a spirit from the living world into eternal life and salt signifies purification and the continuance of life.
The flame of the candle guides the spirit to the altar and lighting incense helps to ward off evil spirits.
Papel picado is hung from the altar and as it moves in the wind one can see that spirits flow freely through the paper. It is also very common to find butterflies adorning an altar.
Flowers are set out to represent the earth. There is also symbolism in the color of the flower with white representing the heavens, yellow the earth and deep red symbolizing mourning.
One may also chose to create a walkway or aisle of flower petals to lead the spirits to your ofrenda (offering). Food is left out to treat the dead to their favorite meal. A glass of water, to satisfy the thirst of the spirits after their long journey. An empty chair set out affirming that they always have a seat at the table.
While these items may be only a fraction of the elements that will make up the altars that you see on celebrating the holiday, an altar cannot be complete without photos and personal items they once used. As you celebrate el Dia de los Muertos, remember that it is a celebration of eternal love for those that have passed and remembering that one’s spirits lives on after death.