Celebrating the Lost - How to Honor your Ancestors during Dia de Muertos
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Celebrating the Lost - How to Honor your Ancestors during Dia de Muertos

October 19, 2020
You can use traditional marigolds and candles as a way to celebrate lost loved ones during the Day of the Dead.

Day of the Dead runs from Oct. 31 through Nov. 2, and, despite what pop-culture may tell you, it isn't just about tequila shots with your girlfriends! It marks a time to remember and celebrate the lives of departed loved ones.

Día de Muertos is a joyous and sacred holiday with roots in traditional Mesoamerican celebrations. The holiday today includes some Christian influences, and celebrations take place throughout Mexico. No matter how you go about your own religious beliefs or traditions, you can use this sacred time to celebrate and connect with loved ones you've lost and get into the spirit (no pun intended!) of Día de Muertos.

Building of Ofrendas

Ofrendas (you pronounce that "oh- frehn-dahs"), individual altars that you design to honor the dead, are central to the Día de Muertos celebration. Take some inspiration from this list of common items to create ofrendas for your own ancestors:

  • Belongings of lost loved ones.
  • Calaveras (try saying "kah-lah-beh-rahs").
  • Candles.
  • Flowers.
  • Pan de muerto ("pahn deh mwehr-toh," literally "bread of the dead").
  • Photos.
  • Toys for little angels, or angelitos (pronounced "ahng-heh-lee-tohs").
  • Water.

You can even go for small offerings of the favorite drinks and food of the loved ones you're celebrating. If you're looking for ways to honor someone you've lost and don't know where to start, you can turn to PathForward for help.


You know those bright, colorful folk art sugar skulls everyone associates with the Day of the Dead? Those calaveras are made of compressed sugar and water and come from Aztec tradition. Calaveras are there to remind you of the cycles of life. Try decorating yours in the traditional way, with beads, colored foil, feathers, icing, and ribbons.

Cempasúchil Flowers

Marigolds, or cempasúchil (that's "sehm-pah-SOO-cheel") flowers, also have a significant role in the Day of the Dead. This tradition dates back to the Aztecs.

Marigolds have a strong scent and vibrant color, and so they guide spirits who come to visit the living over the course of the Día de Muertos celebrations. Go all out for the celebration and put out vases of marigolds as part of your decorations. Got kiddos? You and your kids can make DIY marigolds with pipe cleaners and tissue paper.

Visiting Grave Sites

The Day of the Dead festival includes visits to gravesites of departed loved ones. Families traditionally use this time to clean graves of any debris, pull weeds, and decorate the graves. Many will use more marigolds, candles, and precious objects that once belonged to the departed as decorations, even building ofrendas right at the gravesite.

Don't live close to a loved one's gravesite? Get a reading with a Psychic Medium to connect during this time when the realms of the living and the dead are closer than ever. Even if you can visit graves as you honor ancestors, speaking with a medium can help you connect with departed loved ones even more.

Día de Muertos allows you to deepen your connection with your loved ones who have moved on from this realm.

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