How to Make a Day of the Dead Altar with Your Kids

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day of the deadFor many, this time of year evokes images of pumpkins, ghosts, witches, and goblins – all things traditional when you think of Halloween. But there’s a different kind of tradition that exists this time of year. Día de los Muertos or Day of the Dead. 

In Mexico and other Latin American countries, Día de los Muertos (which takes place November 1-2) is a time to celebrate and honor loved ones who have passed on. It is believed that during this holiday the deceased are able to visit friends and relatives on earth and once again enjoy the things they did in life, such as food, music, and drinks. Despite dealing with death, Día de los Muertos is a lively celebration filled with color, music, and joy. 

The altar is perhaps the most recognized aspect of Día de los Muertos. It is a dedicated space in your home used to remember and honor the dead. Traditionally, the altars are decorated with photos of deceased loved ones, papel picado (paper cutouts), sugar skulls, and objects, food, or drinks the deceased enjoyed.

Celebrate Día de los Muertos

Regardless of your heritage, you can make Día de los Muertos a tradition of your own. Start with creating your own family altar. Here’s how you can create an altar with your kids:

  1. Make it a learning opportunity

    Indulge in age-appropriate media to teach your children about the holiday and how to celebrate it. We love watching Coco in our family. We watch it right before we start working on our altar. If you want to skip the screen time, click here for one of our favorite books on Día de los Muertos. 

  2. Gather photos

    Have your kids help gather photos of deceased loved ones. You can go back as many generations as you would like and can find pictures for. It doesn’t even have to be people you actually knew. You can honor deceased authors, celebrities, or sports figures. 

  3. Decorate

    The altar is your creation and there is no “wrong” way to do it. It doesn’t have to be in any specific spot in your home and it can be as big or little as you want. Things to consider incorporating into your altar include papel picadocalaveras (skulls), velas (candles), and cempasuchils (marigolds). While you can certainly take the time to make your own sugar skulls and papel picado, this mama is all about the shortcuts! Dollar Tree has had lots of neat Day of the Dead decorations. It’s also a great place to buy things like wrapping paper and table cloths to use in your altar. 

  4. Gather to prepare the ofrenda (offering) and celebrate

    The ofrenda is meant to welcome the spirits of the dead back to earth and consists of items that were important to them. The ofrenda typically includes favorite foods and drinks of the deceased, as well as cherished items like jewelry or books. On November 1-2, gather as a family to set out the ofrenda and share stories of your loved ones. 

Here’s our family’s altar this year.

Incorporating Dia de los Muertos into your yearly traditions is a great way to spend time together as a family, teach children about their ancestry, and start eliminating some of the fear around the topic of death.

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Eva lives in WDSM with her husband, Zack, and daughter, Kate (2019). She is a prosecutor with the Polk County Attorney's Office where she handles primarily child welfare cases. Outside of work, Eva enjoys recreating Pinterest recipes that are beyond her level of expertise, trying to find the perfect skincare routine, and buying way more on Amazon than she needs to. Eva shares openly about her experiences involving Zack's deployment, her high-risk pregnancy, Kate's NICU stay, and just about anything else you might care to ask about. She's a big fan of podcasts, personality tests, the Shark VacMop, and ordering her coffee "kid temp" at Starbucks. Connect with her on Instagram @evaateresaa

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