day of the dead maria felix altar

A large Day of the Dead altar dedicated to Mexican actress Maria Felix

Dia de los Muertos – Day of the Dead Altars in Sonora, Mexico

El Día de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead, is a Mexican tradition that interweaves ancient aspects of pre-Hispanic culture with Christian beliefs to create a unique annual event of remembrance for the departed.

The Day of the Dead altar is the most enduring, beautiful and culturally significant symbol of this special day. In addition to visiting the cemetery, many Sonorans will build an altar to their loved one, which ranges from a small altar in the living room of a home to large, public displays.

The tradition of constructing an altar is also a common cultural activity for Mexican school students, who will create an altar as a classroom to remember a deceased teacher or community figure, while at the same time learning about and connecting with the cultural tradition that defines the holiday.

Day of the Dead altars can be constructed as a simple one-tier altar, found in many Mexican homes. Larger altars are made in at least three levels, and can have up to seven tiers. The basic three levels of the altar symbolize the underworld, the earth and sky, and the seven layers of the larger altars represent the seven places where the dead must stop to rest before they reach their spiritual destination.

Favorite items of the departed are placed on the decorated altar. These “ofrendas,” or offerings, serve not only as remembrances but also to please the departed (who make a visit during this time) and to provide assistance wth their spiritual journey in the afterlife.

The main elements added to an altar are flowers, candles, food and beverages, which typically includes marigolds, mums and lion’s paw flowers, alcoholic beverages, special bread known as Pan de Muertos, small sugar skulls, incense and cigarettes. More elaborate altars have as many as 12 different types of adornments.

Click here to see a list of 12 typical altar elements
Click here to see examples of Yaqui altars
Click here to see examples of Tohono O’odham (Papago) altars

Day of the Dead in Sonora
Sonoran Day of the Dead Adornments
Sonoran Day of the Dead Cemetery Photos
Sonoran Day of the Dead Art