Day of the Dead

Traditional Day of the Dead Offerings

Max. D Gray
By Max. D Gray. Updated: March 6, 2022
Traditional Day of the Dead Offerings

The Day of the Dead is one of the most important celebrations in Mexico, where millions of people meet up on 2nd November to pay tribute to those who have physically departed. They visit the graves of descendants and loved ones on this date. For this reason, it's typically Mexican and so important for them to make offerings to the deceased during this holiday. Do you want to celebrate this festival? In this we explain the traditional day of the dead offerings and how to do one step by step.

Steps to follow:


Each Day of the Dead altar differs depending on the region of Mexico you're in. This OneHowTo explains the essential and most traditional elements, including the decorative aspects that can be individually tailored or created in accordance with the popular traditions of the area you may live in.


The basic element of traditional Day of the Dead offerings is the base for your altar. A stable table is the easiest option, although you can also create a special structure for the occasion if you don't have a suitable table.


Different levels are a fundamental part of your Day of the Dead offering. Traditionally, altars have three levels to represent heaven, earth and the underworld. Some people use seven levels to represent the various states through which the human soul transits when it dies.

You can start by opting for three levels. Prepare the altar using cardboard boxes, crates or fruit boxes of three different sizes, stacking one on top of another. Don't worry too much about their appearance because you can use a tablecloth to cover them. You then have your three levels.

Traditional Day of the Dead Offerings - Step 3

As mentioned, it's time to cover up each level. This is where color is so characteristic of Day of the Dead celebrations. You can use an embroidered white cloth as a basis and then place several different colored embroidered tablecloths on top. Lilac, purple, pink, yellow or orange are the most popular choices. You can also just use colorful tablecloths, as in the previous image.

Other people choose to decorate their levels with confetti to represent air, an important element in Day of the Dead offerings. This is one of the most typical offerings in Mexico.

Traditional Day of the Dead Offerings - Step 4

Once your altar is ready, you need to include some essential traditional elements in your Day of the Dead offering. Marigolds come first, and are used to make bouquets, arches and also to guide the dead to their offering. They are an essential part of every altar.

You can decorate your altar any way you like with these flowers by using small sprays placed loosely on the altar, with petals scattered on each level or by decorating an arch above the altar. An arch is an ideal choice if you intend to make a more elaborate Day of the Dead offering.

Traditional Day of the Dead Offerings - Step 5

Other unmissable items on your Day of the Dead offering include:

  • A photo or photos of the deceased are always placed on the top level of the altar
  • Pan de muerto (Spanish for 'bread of the dead') is a traditional dish that is offered to the dead as well as being consumed during this celebration
  • Sugar skulls, very typical of this festival, alongside glasses of water for the deceased to drink as well as to represent this natural element. Take a look at the meaning of the Day of the dead skull for more information.
  • Incense and lilac or purple coloured items, a tone that represents death and is unmissable part of this Mexican celebration
  • Candles to represent fire and guide the souls
  • Favourite food of the deceased and Mexican sweets if commemorating a child's soul
Traditional Day of the Dead Offerings - Step 6

If you follow these guidelines, you'll be able to make your Day of the Dead offerings truly beautiful and colorful, and it will be a worthy representation of this wonderful Mexican holiday.

If you want to read similar articles to Traditional Day of the Dead Offerings, we recommend you visit our Festivities & Celebrations category.

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Traditional Day of the Dead Offerings