Ofrendas are built inside the homes of the believers of Day of the Dead in Central and Southern Mexico. While there are regional differences in styles of the ofrendas due to income or custom, there are many altar mainstays to greet the weary spirits when they arrive. The children return on November first and the adults join their families on November 2.
Children's ofrendas are customized and decorated with delightful foods, candies and toys in miniature... miniature tamales, chocolates, tiny breads etc. Adult ofrendas feature the traditional candles, fruit, tamales, mole, mezcal, cempasuchil as well as photos, fashion magazines, cigars or folk art skeletons... and every ofrenda has pan de muerto and sugar skulls!
This impressive ofrenda in Michoacan uses aromatic marigolds, colored corn, and very unusually shaped pan de muerto breads, that represent female spirits of the dead.
Marigolds are the typical flower used for Day of the Dead but hard to find in the U.S. during November. These silk marigolds (or cempasuchil) may be used in vases or cut apart for your altar-making. Each bouquet has 9 flowers. Mix gold & orange for greatest realistic effect.
This wood table exemplifies a feast fit for a muerto! It's heaped up with sugar skulls, candles, sugar cane, pan de muerto, cempasuchil, copal incense burner and a big pot of mole covered in sesame seeds. 4" high x 4" wide x 3" deep. Mexico A1293$24 each
Exquisite miniature papier mache dolls with movable arms and legs in the style of the Celeya dolls of the Porfiriato (1870 – 1910). These are perfect for baby ofrendas celebrated on November 1. Celeya papier mache. Assorted colors. Mexico
In Michoacan, Mexico, Day of the Dead is extra special because of the annual migration of the monarch butterflies. A true mystery of nature, these beautiful, big orange butterflies return to the villages & countryside during the week of Day of the Dead. Now, legend says that they are the spirits of returning loved ones.
When I found these hand-painted monarch garlands, I ignored my “anti-China” purchasing prejudice and had to get these. They are painted on a kind of silk flower material that looks like real butterfly wings. They will be great for our ofrendas makers who might even want to restring them horizontally, as they only come in vertical strings. They are very good quality and come in a nice box. Size is approx. 4 in wide. Garland extends 80” long on clear fishing line string. 9 butterflies.
Rose bouquet altar candles are a Mexican art that is disappearing! These laborious, ingenious candles are made by hand in small villages around the country.
Once the main center pillar of the candle is made, the flowers are made by dipping different clay molds and little round pots into buckets of hot wax. After they are dipped 6 times, they are plunged into cold water to loosen the wax from the pot. While the wax is playable, the artist cuts petals into the half sphere shape. Several diameters of round petals are placed on top of one another and then stuck onto the main candle.
These bouquet candles will add a lot of interest on your ofrenda - and make wonderful gifts!
Rose Bouquet Altar Candle - colors left to right (above)
Medium candles - 3 1/2 inches high x 2" wide Tall candles - 7 inches high x 3" wide
Cempasuchil with Cream Taper
Tall A3158 $46 each • Medium A3159 $32 each
Rosa Mexicana with Cream Taper
Tall A3160 $46 each • Medium A3161 $32 each
Uva with Cream Taper
Tall A3164 $46 each • Medium A3165 $32 each
Ivory with Cream taper (right) Tall A3162 $46 each • Medium A3163 $32 each
These candles can be made extremely big and extraordinarily well detailed with colors and even gold leaf. In the Oaxacan village of Teotitlán del Valle, 4 foot candles are commissioned by the grooms family for the engagement procession to ask for the girl's hand in marriage. The more expensive and fancy the candles are, the more the groom looks "stable and well to do" and impresses the girl's father. The same candle makers can create special 6 foot candles for religious holidays to decorate the church.
NEW Santa Rosa Altar Candles
Mexico is famous for their hand made candles which flicker in the dark ornate churches throughout Mexico, glowing in romantic little cafes off cobble stone alley ways and illuminate the loving offerings made on altars for Day of the Dead.
The most exquisite of these candles are the Santa Rosa Altar candles which are expertly hand crafted in Guanajuato, Mexico. They are traditionally made by pouring hundreds of layers of hot wax over the wick to create the desired size. The largest church candles might take 3 months of wax pouring to reach the desired size. The result is a rich, creamy color - thick, slow burning wicks and finished with a gold leaf stamp of a sugar skull. Watch our short video I took when I was visiting their workshop in March 2016.
Most candles available today are made in China from vats of melted soy mix that's squirted into molds or glasses. The factory machinery can make a candle in seconds. Absolutely no comparison in quality or the wonderful feeling these candles create in your home.
Left to right
A5316 Santa Rosa Pillar Candle $52 each
6 inch diameter x 6 inches high
A5315 Santa Rosa Pillar Candle $38 each
3 inch diameter x 5 1/2 inches high
A5313 Santa Rosa Pillar Candle $5 each
2 inch diameter x 2 inches high
A5317 Santa Rosa Taper Candle $16 each
1 1/2 inch diameter x 7 1/2 inches high
A5314 Santa Rosa Pillar Candle $22 each
3 inch diameter x 3 inches high
Mexican artisans making handmade candles the same way they were made in the 1700s.
NEW Decorated Glass Virgin of Guadalupe Candle Holder (with candle)
Beautifully hand-crafted and filled with a white candle. 5 inches tall x 3 inches wide. Mexico
(left) A5318T - Turquoise $42 each
Black Cast Skull Candles
A splendid addition to any ofrenda. Candles are cast in molds from fine quality wax in San Miguel de Allende. The candles are then hand painted with intricate floral and vine patterns. This 17th-century tradition of candle painting originated in central Mexico from by church artists who decorated the "santuario" altar side stations of the cross. Many 16th - 18th-century churches had soap and candle production on-site which supplied outpost churches and even sold their handmade products in the marketplace.
NEW Dark Wine - A3009 $44 each (photo soon - deeper red than current photo)
These candles burn a center column for over 15 hours, and then collapse - but for 15 hours the skulls look great. Be sure to burn on a saucer.
On home ofrendas, it's quite common to find candle holders burning handmade candles round the clock to welcome the returning spirits. The candle holders represent the style of pottery made in a village. The green glazed candle holders is traditional to Michoacan. The Castillo style candle holders are from Puebla. Below, the skeleton bands are from north of Mexico City.
NEW Frida with Rebozo Candle Holder
Unique Castillo style candle holder for 3 candles! Candle holders are behind Frida's head and hands. 8.5" tall x 7" wide x 3.5" deep. Colors and designs are unique. Mexico
Castillo style pottery is beautiful, interesting and makes wonderful additions to any Day of the Dead collector... And yes, still painted with one-hair paint brushes. Learn more about Castillo style pottery and explore our entire Castillo collection.
NEW Ofrenda Skull Centerpiece
Have you been waiting for the perfect, joyous clay sugar skull to be the focal point of your Day of the Dead celebration? This is IT.
This finely painted huge skull was painted in a woman's workshop in Guanajuato, Mexico with a garden full of detailed flowers representing rebirth & transformation.
A thick candles crowns the top and a votive tea light can be slipped underneath to illuminate the eyes. The glittered cup on top of the skull can hold the provided candle, or used to add your personalized floral decorations. These pieces are extremely limited and precious for any family that wants a special centerpiece to remember their loved ones.
The epitome of folk ark using recycled cans, hammered with intricate designs and painted with automotive paints all to delight the venerated Virgin. Comes with tea light. When lit the entire shrine shimmers. 4" x 7" x 2.5" deep. Mexico.
I love these! These clay skulls are fired and can either be glazed & fired or painted with acrylic paints or glitter glue. Perfect to cover a tea light for your table, ofrenda or tombstone decor. Kids & adults will enjoy making these for gifts.
Well made by a family near San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. 3” tall x 3” wide x 3 1/2” deep, 1” hole, 3/8” deep eyes. (Candle not included.)
Thanks to Jeff S. for sharing his painted clay altar skulls - “Just wanted to say thanks for the great service on the clay skulls I ordered. They arrived on time and were a HUGE hit. Attached is a pic of some of the finished ones.”
Milagros are translated as "little miracles". These charms have been used for centuries in churches for the faithful to request miracles. The flaming heart is a popular symbol for expressing love and passion. Milagros are beautiful things to be cherished, to keep on your home altar.
Milagros are made by artisans from any Catholic country and we have a fine collection from Peru, Mexico and Germany. These days, a non-religious use of the milagros includes giving them as gifts to loved ones, decorative uses, ornaments and keepsakes.
Jalisco does two things very well - tequila and painted pottery! These ceramic wall masks make a dynamic addition to any ofrenda - or just keep him up on the wall. 6.5" wide x 8" high x 2.5"deep. Mexico $28 each
Made from hard cover children’s story books! Hard cardboard letters are strung together on black ribbon to hang in dining room, classroom or across an ofrenda. Uniquely ours. So durable that you can keep it up all year long. Each string extends approx. 6 feet, but you can adjust the spacing on the string. Handcrafted in Oregon.
Handmade by 5 old ladies in Mexico City.... and furthermore, Angela's mother got drafted to assort the colors once they hit state side! She's done thousands! These adorable roses are bright & beautiful and can be used for wrapping napkins, wedding decorations, cards, cello bags, sugar skulls or decorating something special. Assorted colors-wire stems. A bunch is 12 roses.
Colors - We now have only bright colors available. The brights include red, bougainvillea and marigold orangy/yellow. No pastels.
Great for decorating sugar skulls! Flower petals made from dyed wood shaving with wire stems. Bright colors – currently 10 yellow, 10 pink & 10 orange with 1.5” wire stems. (colors vary with shipment). Thailand.
In Latin America, a relicario is a small, finely detailed devotional pendant used by the Catholic Church to hold cherished relics and mementos of the saints. In the more common definition, a relicario is a special, beautiful container to hold something precious.
In a Catholic church, relicarios are seen on the side altars, pinned to a garment or held by an elegant statue of a saint. A piece of the cross Christ died on, a locket of hair from a saint or something extremely precious could be inside the precious, locket-like necklace.
In 1990, I made friends with the maintenance man from the Oaxacan cathedral who offered me a personal VIP tour from the basement to the winding steps of the tallest tower. He showed me a relicario that had a shriveled up finger of a Mexican saint inside. The side altars in big old churches in Mexico have all kinds of unique, gorgeous as well as humble relicarios. Some were sent from European churches, while others have been made of the finest materials and artistry the Church can attain - sterling silver from Guanajuato, carved shell from the Coast, carved coconut inlaid with mother of pearl shell or silver filigree.
Some relicarios find their way to Mexican antique shops, but these are usually from home altars or chapels. What makes a relicario different from a milagro is that there is a hidden place to put a little precious something inside. Usually they are larger than a locket for a photo, and can be as large as a pizza box if it's adorning a major saint in the front of a church.
We have found a workshop that is making nice reproductions of French relicarios of the mid to late 1800's. They are not Tiffany's fine jeweled style, but rather, more crude and artisanal; but they do authentically reproduce cut crystals, hammered initials, repoussé stretched & hammered pot metal as well as rough hand made hinges. If you are wanting a fine, high class, jewelry-like relicario, you wouldn't be pleased with these. But if you like the more humble, heart-felt relicarios to put special mementos in, these are fabulously perfect! I've had friends put love notes, lockets of hair of a baby or a love, fortune cookie fortunes, poems, prayers, ashes… any kind of precious thing that shouldn't be rattling around in your under ware drawer. These make lovely, thoughtful, keepsake gifts for someone special.
open Shell Reliquario (large)
Shell Relicario (large)
(left) Jeweled Flaming Heart reliquario with shell and over 130 inlaid crystals. Opens from the back. 7.5” high x 4” wide x .75” deep. Ring hanger.
November 1, the first day of Day of the Dead, is when dead children are celebrated. Families look forward to reuniting with their "angelitos" (little angels) and decorate the home ofrenda with colorful flowers, incense and special arrays of goodies - all in miniature! Little special candies in toy shapes, mini tamales that are not too spicy - in Oaxaca, mothers press chocolate into mini shapes to delight the spirits of their angelitos.
In markets all over Mexico, tiny little candles are wrapped in blue and pink shimmering paper to burn on the ofrendas. The Zapotec Indians construct miniature, child size altars (about 2 feet square) that sit at the foot of the big ofrenda in their living rooms. Great care and attention is expressed in every detail.
Perfect to celebrate the return of the angelitos, this clay winged angel has wire joints so you can move it around. 5” tall x 3” wide. Mexico
The cutout eyes flicker & glow with the flame of tea lights which fit nicely inside the ceramic skull. Each one is hand painted with a unique design, but all look very similar to the photo. Bright assorted colors. Mexico
Large (7.5" high) A2257 $42 each Medium (5.5" high) A2258 $30 each
Recycled Tin Heart Frame
Hammered frame topped with a flaming heart on top and scroll designs and hearts around the oval picture frame. You personalize with a photo of your muerto or old postcard - (We used a calendar girl in the photo. Tin heart frames come with a photo of the Virgin of Guadalupe). The tin shows pieces of Mexican juice cans! Oval 9 ”high x 8” wide. No two alike. Mexico
A1266 $85 each (out temporarily)
Day of the Dead Ofrendas
photos by MexicanSugarSkull.com
Ofrenda of our master papel picado artist (Puebla, Mexico)