Both my mother and grandmothers have always had different kinds of altars in the house, some have been religious and others, just a pleasing way of placing favorite objects. Until I was an adult I didn’t give much thought to this tradition, even though I found myself replicating them in my own home. The unusual use of materials and creative placement is what usually catches my eye in other people’s altars. I was already well acquainted with the examples I’ve seen here in Los Angeles – a public altar aesthetic that is familiar to those who attend Chicano produced Dia de los Muertos events i.e. lots of papel picado, glittery, bright colors. In Mexico I was able to see quite a few traditional and native altars or ofrendas (as they are called in Mexico) and have included these photos as examples of the various regional styles.
In Oaxaca, local indigenous groups were invited to participate in public display of ofrendas representing their cultural traditions. Most of the ofrendas were built with natural materials: marigold (the scent is said to be particularly delicious to the dead), reeds, bananas, loquats, sugarcane, apples, coconuts and pan de muerto. Other offerings like beer, mole, whole chickens, tamales, hot chocolate and burning copal are likely to entice the spirit world (and the rest of us) back to these earthly pleasures.