My Offerings

I will be taking down my humble ofrenda today.  My little offerings don't look like much--especially in comparison with some I've seen pictured--but each component means a lot to me.  This sweet, simple practice, like the autumn and life itself, comes and goes so quickly.  How fitting.
I first learned about ofrendas from the fab folks over at Root Simple.  They live in L.A. where there is a robust Mexican cultural influence.  I was immediately taken with the alter they'd set up and the significance of the different items which composed it.  I had to read up and learn more.

Here are a few links, if you like:  A Day of the Dead Ofrenda tour by Google's Art and Culture group, an article from Inside Mexico, and for those only want a single, quick paragraph to read the Wikipedia article.
Ofrendas for the dead have been recorded way, way back--dating back before the Aztecs and prior to Spanish influence.  After Christianity swept Central America the practice was rolled into the Allhallowtide triduum, somewhat akin to the incorporation of pagan practices into Christian tradition at Christmastime.

While there are many variations to this tradition there are some common themes which run throughout.  The offerings are being made in celebration of those we love who have passed on--but who are still with us in spirit.   Flowers are common--particularly marigolds--and so are seasonal fruits.  Small offerings of refreshments for visiting spirits are made, especially bread and things the departed enjoyed.  Fire, water, and salt are common elements.  Photographs and/or artifacts from loved ones are displayed, as are religious ornaments.  Frequently the ofrendas are built in a tiered fashion and include skeletons, skulls, and incense.
I think a big part of what appeals to me about this spiritual holiday is how honest and celebratory it is.  Most of my life I've been fearful of death.  It isn't exactly something we celebrate in the western world.  Age and dying, it seems, have become increasingly something to fear and dread--at least that is the general impression I've picked up from friends and popular culture.  Yet with age comes wisdom, growth, and experience!  Not all are so blessed as to reach old age.  Life is a beautiful, fragile miracle.  So, I like the practice of offering and honoring my dead, of including them in the act of living, of making it a holiday and a feast of remembrance and welcome.  I like that a lot.  So, I started making my own offerings--to Josh, Erik, and Bill, to my step-dad and my favorite uncle, to Matt's grandma and my grandpa...

It gives me a happy, peaceful feeling placing the objects with care and standing over them with my thoughts.  I set it up on October 31st and leave it for November 1st and 2nd.
This year I included photographs, a sprig of incense, a small candle, tomatoes and potatoes picked by my own hand, a tea cup my grandpa brought back from Korea, water, a pumpkin painted by Matt's grandmother, a few talismans of life and death--such as a a bird's wing, a crab's shell--which I've collected over the years, my family crucifix, stones marking the four directions, a handful of earth, an Eye of God, and colorful bunches of fall leaves as there was, quite literally, no flowers in my yard whatsoever this year.


  1. I agree its good to remember, many of us in the West forget - out of sight out of mind kind of thing, its sad really. I like this and thank you for sharing

  2. Thanks, Lisa and Shaheen. I think it is a very special, worthwhile practice.


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