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Celebrating Día de los Muertos

Published on Nov. 01, 2022

November first through the second is Día de los Muertos, a holiday which originated in Mexico and gives families the opportunity to celebrate life while also reuniting with their loved ones who have passed.

Valley Children’s Hospital has an ofrenda, or altar, in the Guilds Hall for guests, patients and staff to add their own items in honor of their loved ones who have passed on. Traditional items can include pictures of loved ones who have passed, candles, flowers, skulls and sweets, and each item on the ofrenda has a specific meaning:

  • Portraits are vital to the altar as the act of putting up a picture of a loved one who has passed allows them to cross over to visit their family.
  • A cup of water is believed to quench the thirst of traveling spirits who are journeying from the afterlife back to the land of the living.
  • Candles are seen as ways to guide the spirits back to their home, or rather their loved ones that still live in the land of the living.
  • There is a specific flower used that traditionally known as “flor de muerto” which translates to “flower of the dead.” These flowers are called cempasúchil, which translates to marigolds. The bright color and fragrance is said to attract the spirits.

Additionally, there are some fun crafts you and your family can do to give a personal touch to the altar, including hand painting sugar skulls and a bit of papel picado (perforated paper). This paper incorporates the element of wind, as spirits are able to cross through them. This can be a craft, as you will cut into paper with special shapes and designs.

Another aspect of the ofrenda is the food element, and that can come in the form of candy, sweets or pan de muerto, “bread of the dead,” which is a sweet bread. To dig a little deeper into the significance of this sweet bread, the overall formation of it is very specific. The center of the bread represents a skull, the four rolls of bread sitting on the top surrounding the skull represents both the tears we shed for our loved ones along with bones in the formation of a cross.

Dia de los Muertos ofrenda at Valley Children's Hospital
The Día de los Muertos ofrenda at Valley Children's Hospital

It is worth mentioning that there is no “wrong way” to decorate an ofrenda.

Other ways to celebrate Día de los Muertos include supporting Mexican-owned restaurants, working with your family to make a traditional or favorite dinner, paint sugar skulls on your face with bright colors and cool designs and share stories of loved ones with your family. You can even find special events going on in the community that is also celebrating this holiday.

Learn more about Día de los Muertos

Read another At the Heart blog post to learn even more about the history of Día de los Muertos, the symbolism of items you might often find on an ofrenda, and how the holiday celebrates life and reunification.


About the Author

Sydney joined Valley Children’s in August 2022 as an intern with the Marketing and Communications team. Sydney’s experience with media, communications and journalism while attending Fresno State has inspired her to write stories that cater, educate and entertain the San Joaquin Valley community. As someone who grew up in a small aggie town near the Central Coast, she is constantly evolving and immersing herself in the Fresno, city-meets-rural lifestyle. Her favorite aspect of living here is the diversity of cultures and events that the community is made up of and celebrates.