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The Offering for the Death and its Elements



By Jesús Aguado

Across the country, the Day of the Dead is celebrated on both November 1 for those who passed away as children and on November 2 for adults.

However, there are some cities that also dedicate October 28 for people whose death was caused by a tragic accident. October 30 can be for those residing in Purgatory, people who died before being baptized.

A local tradition was initiated in 2004, a “mega offering” was set up in the Jardín’s esplanade, dedicated to distinguished Sanmiguelenses. (However, this year, for the first time, the mega and smaller offerings will be moved to the San Juan de Dios neighborhood.) If you take the time to examine these offerings, it is easy to identify in the colorful creations elements of the Mexican people’s collective identity.

To guarantee a visit from those in the afterworld, tradition states that people must place offerings in their honor, typically on altars. The offering should have all the following essential elements. If one element is missing, the traveling soul might become upset and and the offering might lose its charm.

A glass with water: to mitigate the soul’s thirst after the long path and to strengthen its way back.

Salt: to purify the soul and corpse of the deceased and frighten away the bad spirits.

Candles: to guide the soul’s way to its old home.

Incense: for clearing the house of bad spirits and protecting the visiting souls.

Flowers: as a sign of festivity and to make the loved ones happy.

Petate: (palm straw) as the base of the offering and for use by the soul as a cloth to rest on.

A dog: mainly for offerings made for deceased children. A dog will make them happy when they arrive, and they will take the dog back with them to help them cross the perilous waters of the Chiconauhuapan River on their way to Mictlán, a place inhabited by the dead.

Bread: an element added by Catholicism, it represents Jesus Christ’s body.

Sugar cane and bread: to make a representation of the tzompantlis. The bread represents the heads of enemies and must be stuck on the sugar canes.

Optional elements:

A picture: an image of the person to whom the altar is dedicated. This must be hidden and can only be visible with a mirror. That means that the person can be seen but does not exist anymore in this world.

Any item liked by the deceased when they were alive can be placed on the altar to please them. The most common traditional dish is mole with pollo, but altars are also decorated with items as various as tamales, atole, paper cutouts, hot chocolate, and liquor (for adults). Alfeñiques (candies) can also be added, mainly skulls, with the name of the invoked soul on them.


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