What do you need to make an altar or "ofrenda" for the departed souls for los dia de los muertos? First you need a small table. On this table you will place photos of your departed loved ones. Candles and incense are traditional. The type of incense used in Mexico is "copal". A bowl of dried marigold flowers is also very traditional. The smell of the marigolds in combination with the smell of the copal incense is supposedly reminisant of the smell of bone. Many Mexican families strew the pathway to their house with marigolds so that the dead can "smell" their way home.
The day of the dead is not a morbid or sad holiday. It is a time of reflection and reminicence. Therefore, bright colors are used to make the altar a cheerful place. Colored crepe paper, decorated candy skulls, small humorous "calaveras" or skeletons will decorate your altar if you have them. My personal collection has grown over the years to include colorful candle holders and several calaveras and candy skulls. For me, this is a time to remember my mother, my cousin, my grandmother, and other friends who have passed before me into the other world. It is a way of honoring and remembering them. I usually bake, or buy dead man's bread to eat with Mexican hot chocolate on the night of Halloween and also on Nov. 1. My daughter and I usually try to make one handcrafted item for the altar each year. We even display a photo of our deceased cat "Misty" who we dearly loved.