Dia de los Muertos - How to Make an Ofrenda

Last updated: October 26, 2022, at 3:18 p.m. PT

Originally published: October 26, 2022, at 3:17 p.m. PT

A hand lights a small candle in front of a Dia De Los Muertos altar

Dia de Los Muertos is a joyous remembrance celebration of family, friends, and pets who have passed away in various Latin American countries and communities. Though there are many regional differences, in Mexican celebrations, the souls of children are welcomed and celebrated on November 1, and adults and all souls on November 2. An important element of this celebration is constructing an Ofrenda to welcome their spirits.  

What is an Ofrenda? 

Our Hispanic & Latin American Employee Resource Network has prepared a short introductory video to explain this type of offering, believed to have been first built by the Aztecs and typically placed on a home altar to welcome loved ones home from Chicunamictlán, the Land of the Dead.

Though they can be complex, and up to seven tiers high, three are enough. These represent the sky, earth, and underworld. Objects placed on them are symbolic of the elements of life:  

  • Water, served in a pitcher to quench the spirits’ thirst 
  • Fire, signified by candles to guide spirits to the Ofrenda  
  • Wind, represented by tissue paper banners  
  • Earth, in the form of food like pan de muerto (bread of the dead), fruit, chocolate, candy skulls, and flowers like marigolds (flor de muerto) which are traditionally chosen for their bright colors and because their smell is believed to guide spirits to the altar 


How to Build an Ofrenda 

  1. Gather supplies:  
  • Personal objects of the deceased or those that represent them. A piece of clothing is a common choice. 
  • Boxes or something you can stack to make the tiers, and decorative cloths to cover them 
  • Candles 
  • A water pitcher (clay is traditional) 
  • Flowers 
  • Tissue paper banners 
  • Food from the list above 
  • Photos of those who have passed 
  1. Construct platforms for the different tiers and lay cloths over 

  1. Place candles and water on the bottom tier 

  1. Arrange the personal items and food on the second tier 

  1. Display photos on the top tier and flowers all over