OP-ED: ‘There Is No One Correct Way to Put Together a Día de Muertos Altar’

All Images By David Cruz​​

One of the beautiful aspects of creating an altar de muertos is that there’s no one correct way to put it together.

Because of the different regions in Mexico and the personal beliefs of those who set up their own altars, you’ll never see two that are ever alike.

Some people focus more on incorporating food and bread like my Great Auntie. 

While, others like my Grandmother, focus more on incorporating as many bouquets of flor de muerto (marigolds) that also includes a massive arch made from sugar canes and that also represents the portal to the netherworld.

All Images By David Cruz​​

My Grandmother's Altar

Each year, my Grandmother grows at least half of what she uses for her altar in a little plot of land we have on the outskirts of Oaxaca, between Cuilapan and Zaachila. While the remaining half, she purchases in the market at La Central de Abastos

She adorns her altar with seasonal fruit, two giant panes de muerto, a Corona beer for my uncle and a bottle of mezcal for her husband.

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Tamales de Mole on the Altar

She doesn’t always adorn her altar with the meals our passed loved ones preferred, she does however, always make sure it’s complete with tamales de mole.

While Oaxaca has seven different moles to choose from (negro (black), rojo (red), coloradito (red colored), verde (green), amarillo (yellow), estofado (stewed) and chichilo (marmoset), my Grandmother almost always prepares a mole negro. Often taking two or three days to make, due to the insane amount of ingredients it requires. 

Sometimes, she even makes a small batch of coloradito, if I ask ahead of time. Some people don’t do well with coloradito, as it’s the spiciest mole compared to its siblings.

Día de Muertos after COVID-19

All Images By David Cruz​​
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Year after year I’ve been blessed with the privilege of documenting my Grandmother’s process of how she sets up her altar, even witnessing the ghost that haunts the house each Muertos season

Except for this year, because I’m stuck in L.A., thanks to the virus that shall not be named.

Let’s hope, however, that next year smiles on us, because if it does, it’s going to be the celebration of a lifetime.

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About the Author

David Cruz

Self-proclaimed mezcal connoisseur and photographs weddings on 35mm. Find him in a palenque, in his hometown of Oaxaca, or at a deep fried quesadilla vendor in the streets of L.A.

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