Calaveras, Celebrations, Day of the Dead, Dia de Los Muertos, Infographic on Day of the Dead, Latina Lista, Latino culture, Ofrendas, Pan muerto, Papel Picado, Sugar Skulls

10 Must Have Items for Dia De Los Muertos

Right after the candy and costumes of Halloween, we have the celebration of Dia De Los Muertos, the Day of the Dead (DoD). 

This is an ancient tradition which has been reintroduced into the United States in the 1990’s. 

I am the second generation Mexican American. The DoD celebration was not part of my childhood or young adult years. The kids in my barrio went across town, to the North side, to go Trick or Treating. We did not stay home and build altars, make sugar skulls or bake pan de Muerto.

Well, I take that back. Most of the homes in our neighborhood had little altars in the living room or in the front yard, but they housed the Virgen de Guadalupe, or a saint, some small candles, and maybe a memorial card of a loved one.   

As a full out celebration, the DoD was not practiced much in the ’60’s and 70’s the USA. But it has found an additional home with Hispanic and non-Hispanic millennials. I’d venture to say it’s now practiced by many Latino baby boomers and Gen X’s. In fact, I’m attending my sixth DofD celebration, this time at our county museum. 

This infographic by GolinHarris on the Traveling Latina site gives an eye-opening look into the “new” old celebration. 

The sugar skulls, dancing calaveras (skeletons), Papel Picado, marigolds, ofrendas, altars and revelry has caught on in the U.S. Big time. Like Hollywood big time

So for those who have not attended a DoD fest, here’s a guide to have your own celebration:

day of the dead altar
Day of the Dead


                 10 Must Have Items for Dia De Los Muertos

  • Altar: This can be on an end table, on the unused dining table, a niche, or atop of a sturdy box. The altar is a remembrance of the dearly departed. 
  • Papel Picado. This is preforated paper, easy to make with tissue and scissors. The element of air is visible when the paper flutters. 
  • Ofrendas/Offerings. What items represent the departed; what did she/he enjoy?
  • Cempasuchitl/Marigolds. Thse flowers symbolized death. Their strong fragrance is said to help the departed ‘smell’ their way back to your altar.
  • Candles. These help light the way for the departed and welcome them back. This is the element of fire.
  • Food. This could be a favorite food of the departed (full meals to snacks) plus pan de muerto, a sweet bread in the shape of a skull. I liked these homemade cookies. Fruit represents the earth.
  • Liquid. This element represent water. The liquid could be any favorite beverage of the departed.
  • Photos. Place your favorite photos in prominent places for guests to see.
  • Incense. This may take you back to Catholic school days, but incense is chosen because it is a strong smelling aroma which is needed to guide the spirit back. Some people use sage or copal.
  • Stories. This gives you an opportunity to tell your friends, children, grandchildren stories about the departed and what they meant to you.

Now that you know the meaning of Dia De Los Muertos, go and celebrate your loved ones.

11 thoughts on “10 Must Have Items for Dia De Los Muertos”

  1. I definitely remember talking about DoD in my Spanish classes while growing up, but we never got to go to an actual celebration. The Chinese also have a couple of official ancestor remembrance days, like Ching Ming (grave sweeping day) when you pay your respects and bring food (of course).


  2. Thank you for this wonderful post, Alvarado. I went to my first celebrations last year in Kansas City at The Writers Place and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Both venues are doing celebrations again this year.


  3. Of all places, in Kansas City-that's wonderful. Thank you for stopping by and letting us know that not only California embraces cultural traditions. I hope you have great fun this year too.


  4. Mona, isn't it funny how suddenly all of the differences that were blended away for our generation are being celebrated with gusto by those just a bit younger…well, not funny, but refreshing. Thank you for adding more texture to my understanding of DoD.


  5. That reminds me Monica, we had a lovely student, Paulina, staying with a couple of years ago. She was from La Paz. We had a little DoD celebration which she helped us stage. It was really nice, you know, remembering my father (Chloe's grandfather) and her grandfather. It was a reverent sort of remembrance; especially the story telling. A most lovely ceremony. I think we might do that again this year.


  6. I agree, the best part is the story telling. When my family remembers someone we usually talk about the funniest thing that person did or the kindest thing. What happens is that someone in the crowd learns something more about a long passed ancestor besides their name.


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