Components of a Day of the Dead Altar

When we talk about Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) we also need to learn about the Components of a Day of the Dead Altar.  Día de Muertos (or commonly known in the US as Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead) is a holiday celebrated in Mexico, Guatemala, Bolivia, and other Latin American countries. Day of the Dead is a time to remember loved ones who have died and to visit deceased family members in the cemetery. Many families make an ofrenda (altar) in their homes on a table or shelves to pay tribute to their loved ones who have passed on. This is a collection of treasures, pictures, food, special items and candles to remind the families of their loved ones.


If you are able to visit an exhibit of Day of the Dead, you will notice the following common items on the altars.  They are essential components of a Day of the Dead altar.

Photos of the Loved One

A family can dedicate the altar to one or more than one loved one who has passed away. See this wonderful post on how to set up your own family altar.  What are the components of a Day of the Dead altar you see in the picture above?

Reminders of their Favorite Activities

Altars often include favorite articles: from food, to drinks, to items that represent their favorite hobbies, activities, or even vices. In the case of children, families will often lay out their favorite toys or dolls.  In the picture below you see different components of a Day of the Dead altar.

Toys at Day of the Dead Altar

Traditional Food, Water

Food and water left for the visiting spirits (calabaza en tachapan de muerto, mole, atole) because they are hungry and thirsty from their journey to the human world.

Types of foods at Day of the Dead Altar | Multicultural Kid Blogs


Cempasuchitl (“flor de muerto“= marigold flowers) are typical flowers used since the time of the Aztecs during Day of the Dead. Marigolds are thought to guide the wandering spirits to their altars using their vibrant colors and scent.  You can make your own here!

day of the dead skeletons

Papel Picado

This decorative, cut tissue paper is use as a color decoration during Day of the Dead (and many other festivals!). It often has cut out skulls (calaveras).

tissue paper decoration Components of a Day of the Dead Altar | Multicultural Kid Blogs

Candles and Incense

Candles and incense both light the way, and draw in the spirits with their aromas.

candles at the day of the dead altar | MKB

Lots of Skulls and Skeletons!

People celebrate death because it is seen as a part of the natural life cycle: flowers that die leave behind seeds that will sprout a new life, and people who pass on leave many gifts for their families. The whimsical skeletons and skulls for Day of the Dead are a playful symbol of life after death, many times the skeletons are engaging in favorite activities, representing those who have died. Read more here why skeletons and skulls are everywhere for Day of the Dead.

Have you ever visited a Day of the Dead altar or exhibit? Did you recognize any of these symbolic items?  Read this great post and explore Day of the Dead around the World!  You will also enjoy the Day of the Dead series for extended learning.  

Day of the Dead series | Multicultural Kid Blogs
Multicultural Kid Blogs is proud to be hosting another blog hop on Day of the Dead! (Don’t miss our series from last year and 2016!) Be sure to visit all the posts below for great ideas on sharing Day of the Dead with kids:




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Teacher, author, and mom to 5 bilingual/multicultural kids; we learn about the world & cultures through travel, celebrations, food, art & projects. I am passionate about global learning, empathy building, adoption, and family travel. I share my adventures at

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2 thoughts on “Components of a Day of the Dead Altar”

  1. Pingback: 10 Kid-Friendly Spanish Day of the Dead Videos – Discovering the World Through My Son's Eyes

  2. Pingback: Different Ways to Remember Loved Ones

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