Building a Day of the Dead Altar

Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) is celebrated on both November 1st and 2nd.  This is time when we celebrate and remember our loved ones that have passed with food, drinks and parties.  It is believed that on November 1st the souls of children return (because they are quicker) and adults return on the 2nd.  During this celebration the graves of the deceased are cleaned and altars are built.  Altars can also be made at home if the graves are too far.  Photos are brought out, stories are shared and the memories are kept alive.
Creating an altar is a fun Day of the Dead tradition that anyone can enjoy. There are many elements that go into creating an altar, including various food and objects specific to Day of the Dead, so we've highlighted a few basic items you'll need to create one and their significance:

Marigolds: Marigold flowers (cempasúchil) are used in altars for their scent, which guides the dead back home (supposedly, the scent of marigold flowers is reminiscent of bone, and that is why these particular flowers are used).
Candles: The purpose of creating an altar is both to celebrate the dead and to invite them back home, so lit candles are used to welcome them back.  One candle is put out for every person that you’ve lost and an extra for anyone that may have been forgotten.
Food: Because the dead will be hungry on their long journey home, it's fitting to add a few pieces of food. You'll see fruit, Pan de Muerto and other snacks on many altars. Pan de Muerto, or "bread of the dead", is traditional sweet bread baked especially for Dia De Los Muertos. You can usually find bone shapes and a "teardrop" (for sorrow) on the top of Pan de Muerto, to represent the dead.
Sugar Skulls: Sugar skulls are an iconic memento mori placed on Day of the Dead altars. They represent both life and death, as they are placed on altars, but also given to the living.
Water: Placing water on an altar helps quench the thirst of the dead, after their long journey home.
Papel Picado: Papel picado banners are festively strung across the altars representing wind and the fragility of life.
Photos and Mementos: Photos of the deceased are placed on the altars along with some of their personal and/or favorite items. If honoring your grandfather who loved his tequila, feel free to set out a glass of his favorite tequila for him to enjoy when he returns!  This is where you can get creative in how you remember your loved ones when building your altar. Put out as much or as little as you want.
Although Day of the Dead is a Mexican holiday, I feel that all can appreciate its message and take joy in the holiday, tradition and celebration.  

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