Creating An Altar - Photograph by Juliane Backmann

How To Create An Altar:

  1. Start with a table, or even a shelf or countertop.  See; that was easy.
  2. Build an arch if you like, to help visually center the altar.  Sugar cane stalks are ideal, but any kind of sticks could do. 
  3. And the marigolds would look lovely adorning your arch, wouldn’t they?
  4. Pile boxes on the table to create tiers. 
  5. Throw a table cloth over the boxes and the table. 
  6. Papel picado or another type of trim can be placed around the edge of the table and each level.
  7. Put a portrait of your honoree on the top tier of the altar.
  8. On the lower tiers: candles, flowers, fruit, sugar skulls, bread, water, smaller photos, knickknacks…whatever is important to you. 
  9. If you have a group of people gathered for several hours, perhaps longer, they’re going to want to eat.  Preferably the same thing your “guest of honor” used to enjoy can be served.  So for the living, break out the tamales, burritos, mole, bread, fruits, vegetables, drinks, candy, and the deceased’s other favorites.  This will trigger memories, stories, and other happy thoughts.

Muertos Visiting Olvera Street, Photo by Juliane Backmann

Memories are particularly important for children.  The stories need to be passed along the generations, so the person lives in the hearts of his ancestors for centuries to come.  It is also a great learning tool to show children a connection to relatives no longer with them physically, and to discuss death without fear.

But again, there is no wrong way to create an altar.  And with lifetimes to treasure, celebrate and share, there’s no reason not to.

For more information, contact:

Visit Olvera Street