The Day of the Dead: Top Ten Items to Include in your Offering

Dia de los Muertos, Sherman Heights
Photo by Batty aka Photobat via Flickr

It's not difficult to create an offering for the Day of the Dead. While we have a habit of calling these dedicated religious areas "shrines," the Mexican artist, Felipe Ehrenberg, who taught me the Day of the Dead as an artistic and healing tradition in 1992, insisted: shrines and altars are for Gods, offerings are for the ancestors, and this tradition calls the ancestors. It looks the same, anyway.

Your offering can take any form. The elements that you must include are love and intention, everything else can vary, and you needn't buy anything new. Decide on an area of your home that would be appropriate, and think about what you would like to include, how this activity fits in with your religious beliefs and your ways of grieving. Where will you be able to see it? How childproof does it need to be?

Some suggestions for what you might be offering:
  1. A picture or icon representing a deity (or more than one) as appropriate for your household or the deceased one.
  2. A photo or other image of your deceased loved one. (No need to restrict it to one person - you remember them all).
  3. Mementos of your loved one or of your life together.
  4. Flowers (fresh or fake).
  5. Crafts or images of saints, angels, hearts (You don't need to have Mexican stuff, or Day of the Dead stuff: whatever is true to you).
  6. Things that will "call" the loved one: food, drink. You might also play music that they liked or that remind you of them on the event.
  7. Fancy or colorful fabric or paper. A scarf, a scrap or special piece of clothing?
  8. Source of light: candles or holiday lights. PLEASE be safe with paper, fabric, and hanging things around!
  9. Something orange - you can select a few other colors if you like, or just go Mexican and mix it all together, choosing as bright as possible.
  10. Something that smells good (incense, candles or fresh flowers, or the food or drink).
Join in our blog carnival as you prepare and celebrate. Share your thoughts and your pictures with others, online or offline. Sign up your blog on our Mr. Linky. Spread this idea: that you want others to share stories, and not just now.

Think about what you'd like to do for a small event on Nov. 2. Would you really prefer to do something private and have your warm thoughts to yourself? Can you invite someone you haven't spoken to in a long time? A family member who's hurting? Can you reach out to someone else who's scrambling through loss?

(One thing I've found lately is the importance of personal contact. If I send out a big group email, I usually end up feeling rejected - but a phone call (not even leaving a message) is very intimate after months of Facebooking and brings an earnestness and commitment to my request that makes people respond differently. Try it.)

Set your mind, above all, on a dream of what you'd like to eat and drink in the honor of your loved one. What would you share with them if they dropped by for a moment? What smells and tastes would call them, and what would they be holding to tell you?

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