Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead is a Mexican tradition where we celebrate and honor loved ones who have passed. As a family we create an 'ofrenda' or altar, so the spirits of our family can crossover from their world into ours on this special day, November 2nd. When I was young, we would mainly celebrate these ceremonies in my grandmother's small 'pueblitos' or towns. We built our altars on the gravesites and tombstones of our ancestors, lighting up a space with lit candles and tangerine flower petals. It was beautiful and strange and it made me have so many questions about life and our family.
Today, celebrating Dia de los Muertos has become one of our favorite holidays. I use this opportunity to create something meaningful and important with my children. We create our own 'ofrenda' where we place pictures of our Nana Lola and our Nana Tula. It's become increasingly important for me to retain the traditions of Mexico within our home in order to pass my rich, cultural heritage to my own children. They never met their great grandmothers so this altar gives us an opportunity to talk about them, learn about who they were, how we loved them, and what they looked like. My Nana Tula loved slot machines so on the altar you'll find a stack of coins and some $20 dollar bills. Nana Lola was an amazing cook and liked her Tequila so a piece of 'pan dulce' and a shot are left as a gift. My kids try to figure out who they look like the most.
To make your own altar, pictures are always the centerpiece. Skeletons, skulls and “La Catrina”' represent the dead and alibriges are the mythical creatures who act as their protectors. Adding these unique treasures begins to transform an alter into something full of color and life. Finally, like most altars for the dead, we decorate them with flowers. The flower of Dia de Los Muertos is the marigold or cempasuchil. Days before the holiday my children and I will create marigold garlands. It's a fun and easy DIY project that allows the family to sit around a table, creating something pretty with their hands while you talk about where they'll be hung and why.
The fact that my daughter Alejandra helps decorate her great grandmothers' altars gives us an opportunity for me to tell her stories about them. She asks about where they are now, we talk about what we're scared of.... and that's okay. It reminds us how we're all connected. It reminds us of the most important thing.... of family.
On Dia de Los Muertos, Alejandra will pull out her traditional dress and wear it when we gather to celebrate. It has become one of her favorite holidays. Because she is proud of the altar she helped build, because she's proud to be the great grandaughter of such honorable women, because she can point to the garlands she helped make with her little hands. Honoring our ancestors helps my children understand who they are and where they come from. It's a beautiful way to keep telling the story of our family.
Gardenia, Founder Lola y Tula
Photography by Marisa Vitale (@maristavitalephoto)