Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Dia De Los Muertos: Las Ofrendas de Ocotepec

For Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) we went to visit Ocotepec, Morelos - a small town just north of Cuernavaca (where my family lives) - to see the ofrendas (altars) that are still a tradition there.

To prepare, during the day we went to the market to buy candles because it is customary to give a candle to each family whose home you visit.   The market was packed with Day of the Dead things - sugar skulls, decorative paper, candles, and the traditional flowers for the holiday.

Sugar (and chocolate and gummy) skulls

Leo loves all there is to see/smell/hear at the market

We may have stopped for a snack

That evening we packed up our candles and hopped on the bus to Ocotepec.  We met up with some friends at the town's church and from there we began walking around the town in search of homes that were hosting.  Families that have lost someone in the last year are the ones that build the elaborate altars and invite people in.  They are pretty easy to spot since there is usually a sizable line at the door of the open homes - but just in case, each home that had an alter would set off a firework every half hour or so to guide people to them.  

Waiting in line

The entrances are elaborate - with archways, flowers, glitter and tissue paper.  Signs proclaim "Welcome to your home" and the name of the deceased because the belief is that the souls of the dead are in limbo during the first year until the Day of the Dead when they go back to visit their homes before moving on.

This entryway was made of petals, rice and sand

The altars usually consist of the "body" (made out of food with new clothes and shoes laid on top and a large sugar skull for the head) and a picture of the person the altar is honoring  There are also lots (lots!) of flowers and decorations and of course food.  There is often a lot of fruit and bread, traditional foods like mole and the favorite foods of the deceased.  Some have beer and/or cigarettes along with personal items.

Welcome Mama Lola

Mama Lola's picture and some favorite foods
Jonathan was only 17

Favorite foods and his father accepting candles on the left

Beer and a futbol jersey

The traditional "Pan de Muertos" bread has a cross and sugar on it
As people exit the homes there is a table offering each person something to eat and/or drink.  Usually punch or coffee and the traditional bread or tamales.

The next day the families go to mass and after the service they distribute all the food and items that were displayed on the altar among the people in the town. After that everyone goes to the graveyard to eat and decorate the graves.

It was amazing.  Really.  I almost didn't go because I was tired and it was past Leo's bedtime - blah, blah, blah.  But I'm so glad I rallied because it was incredible. It's a tradition that's dying.  Very few towns still build large alters and open their homes, although it is common for people to have a small altar in their homes in honor people they have lost with favorite foods and flowers to attract the souls.  I hope Ocotepec is still known for it's ofrendas when Leo is old enough to understand the significance of the tradition.  I'd love to bring him back.


  1. Beautiful. I would love to be in Mexico for Dia de los Muertos and Dia de los Angelitos one day.

  2. What an incredible tradition.

  3. Steph Telep11/03/2011

    I'm so glad you guys pulled through and got to see it. It impacted me as well. Mmmm I miss the market!!

  4. I wish I'd gotten to see more when I was in Mexico in '07, but what we did see was amazing. We were in Mexico City then in Veracruz state for the bulk of our ten day trip. It's amazing to see how much work and love goes into preparing the cemeteries and I loved that half of the homes turn into little bread shops for those days (where we were at least). Those ten days were some of the best in my life, I'm jealous that you're there!

  5. Great pics. I one day want to visit Mexico during dia de los muertos.

  6. This sounds (and looks!) incredible. WIsh I could be there with you...

  7. Me encanta!!! Solo he ido a Mexico una vez pero me encantaria regresar para esta dia. :)

  8. Kara Sanders11/04/2011

    Mi URL- .

  9. I enjoyed this post! The culture, the tradition, sigh! Beautiful!

  10. We didn't visit any altars for Dia de los Angelitos. I wasn't sure I could do it - but someday, I'd like to also.

  11. It was really cool to see in person.

  12. Don't worry! I ate enough gorditas for both of us!

  13. It really is a labor of love - and so inspiring how *happy* the families that have lost someone are to do it.

  14. It was my first time there during that time of year - and I can't believe I waited so long. Totally recommend it!

  15. Es la fiesta que mas he disfrutado! Si tienes oportunidad - participa!