Everything You Need to Build Your Ofrenda

Graphic of necessities to build an ofrenda.

Day of the Dead serves as a way to connect, pay respects, and remember our loved ones who have passed on to the afterlife. Building an ofrenda goes back to the Pre-Hispanic era to celebrate life and death. This tradition centers around creating an altar with decorations and leaving out items that past loved ones would have enjoyed.

But sometimes, building an ofrenda might be tricky and more complicated than we’d hope. In some cases, grief can make everything seem more difficult. So if you’re looking to honor and remember your family, here’s a simple breakdown of what you’ll need to build your ofrenda:


Día de Los Muertos is all about the passage of souls through death. So make sure you have three levels placed, earth, middle, and heaven. Your candles, photographs, and food should be at a higher level. You could add a stool between a small table and the floor so you could get the middle ground.

The four main elements

Be sure to incorporate the four elements: earth, wind, fire, and water. Add candles, which are the fire that will guide your relatives. A glass of water so the spirit or the spirits on your altar can relieve their thirst and something that represents the earth, like a carpet or sand. The papel picado represents the wind, but you can always skip it if you want to keep it simple!


Do you have photos of your relatives for the altar? That smiling photo of your Papá, mamá, tía, tío or your abuelos. You can also add anyone who you want to pay respects to, any inspiring people who’ve gone through your life. Remember, this day is to honor those people who’ve left an imprint on your path. As long as you’ve got a photograph of your dear one, candles, and a table to put everything on, you’ve got all you really need to build your own ofrenda.

Ofrenda somebody shared to their Instagram page.

Ofrendas are unique and beautiful, so get as creative as you want, add papel picado, pan de Muerto, your loved one’s favorite drink and foods, flowers, calacas, a lot of candles, and as colorful as you desire. There are thousands of ways to mix it up and craft tailored ofrendas for your loved ones.

Once you have the basics down, you’ll feel at ease. Remind yourself that they will appreciate the effort and intention. As long as you keep your beloved people in mind, that ofrenda will look and feel fantastic!

Religion and Superstition among Latinas: Are they Mutually Exclusive?

I often wondered how my abuelita could be so religious, praying all the time and never missing a Sunday at church. Yet there she was, sticking a knife in the ground whenever storm clouds rolled in, thinking it would "shoo the rain away." She'd give me the side-eye for my magic wand tattoo and believing in the power of manifestation, but would be the first to blame trickster “chaneques” when stuff went missing, and hang ceramic sheep on the door to supposedly "bring in the cash."

When I was younger, I found it to be somewhat hypocritical of her. Now, I just think it’s funny and sort of beautiful how our ancestors and surroundings have shaped our beliefs in such unique ways.

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