How to Build Your Own Day of the Dead Altars

How to Build Your Own Day of the Dead Altars | California Psychics

A Celebration of Departed Loved Ones

Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is a Mexican holiday, celebrated on November 1 and 2. It honors deceased loved ones and welcomes them back to the realm of the living. According to National Geographic:

“Day of the Dead originated several thousand years ago with the Aztec, Toltec, and other Nahua people, who considered mourning the dead disrespectful. For these pre-Hispanic cultures, death was a natural phase in life’s long continuum. The dead were still members of the community, kept alive in memory and spirit—and during Día de los Muertos, they temporarily returned to Earth. Today’s Día de los Muertos celebration is a mash-up of pre-Hispanic religious rites and Christian feasts. It takes place on November 1 and 2—All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day on the Catholic calendar—around the time of the fall maize harvest.”

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The main component of the celebration is the Day of the Dead altars, or ofrendas, built in private homes and cemeteries. These aren’t altars for worshipping. Instead, they’re meant to welcome the spirits of deceased loved ones back to the realm of the living. And they’re loaded with offerings—water, food, family photos, and a white candle, called a veladoras, for each deceased relative. If that deceased relative is a child, the Day of the Dead altars often include toys. Flowers adorn the altars and decorate the path from the altars to the gravesites.

How to Build Your Dia de los Muertos Altar

a Dia de los Muertos altar made up of seven levels

Traditionally, altars are divided into 7 levels — each with their own purpose and meaning.

Orange eye representing protection against the evil eye

Level 1

On this highest level, place an image of a deity to protect your altar.

skull icon inviting deceased loved ones to the dia de los muertos altar

Level 2

This level is for the souls in transition. Place candles to give permission to the deceased to visit the altar. Also, place a glass of water and a mirror to help the deceased remember that they are dead.

salt icon protecting souls from corruption

Level 3

On this level, add a handful of salt to purify and preserve the soul while progressing to the next destination and keep it from being corrupted.

Mexican sweet bread icon offered to deceased loved ones

Level 4

The fourth level of the altar features the pan de muerto (bread) and sugar skulls. This is known as sacred food for your loved ones.

knife and fork icon representing deceased loved ones favorite foods

Level 5

On this level, offer your deceased loved ones their favorite foods and fruits to remind them of the good times in life as well as to nourish their souls for their continued journey.

picture frame icon representing images of deceased loved ones placed on altars

Level 6

On the sixth level of the altar, place photos of the departed. Sometimes a mirror is also included for self-reflection.

lime icon representing the cross made of fruit to ease deceased loved ones journey

Level 7

On the lowest level, make a cross with tecojote and lime so that the deceased may atone for their sins.

You can also distribute other elements among the seven levels, such as:

Cempasúchil flowers (to guide souls through their smell)

Sugar skulls



A Celebration of Life

No matter how you decorate your altar, remember that Dia de los Muertos is a celebration and not a time for mourning. The notion that our loved ones are always with us, even after they’ve crossed over into the spirit realm is beautiful, and worth the effort of honoring.


Death is not the end of your strong bonds with your loved ones. A psychic medium can connect you to those who have crossed over. During a psychic medium reading, you can share messages, get closure, and so much more.

Find a psychic medium or learn more about psychic medium readings.

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