A Dia de los Muertos altar in Santiago Pinotepa Nacionál (Photo Credit: Pernel S. Thyseldew http://www.digthatcrazyfarout.com)
Altars or ofrendas are built by families and communities to honor the dead. These altars reflect family and community traditions and are rooted in the practices of both pre-Hispanic people and Spanish Catholics. The altar can be thought of as a connection between the world of the living and the dead; a time of reunion for families.
The manner and style of the altar depends on the traditions of the region and on the wealth of the family. The construction of an altar can be costly because everything, including the dishes the food is served on, must be new.
Copal in an incense burner (Courtesy of Corazon)
The types of foods and gifts offered for Day of the Dead are chosen to appeal to the specific tastes of those being honored. The living honor the return of the dead with elaborate home altars and graveside arrangements of the deceased’s favorite foods and keepsakes. The items are chosen to attract the visiting soul and reflect tastes enjoyed in life. Photographs of the deceased will be placed on the altar along with pictures of saints to help protect the returning soul on its journey back to the afterworld. Decorations may include flowers, skulls and skeletons, lyres, and tombstones. Burning candles and an incense called copal are also placed on the altar to attract returning souls.