Decoding the Meaning of the Day of the Dead Altar
Project info

The Day of the Dead altar is at once mysterious and visually legible, a cultural touchstone whose multi-layered symbology can be decoded by a knowledgeable observer.

The holiday’s indigenous, millennia-old origin has been transformed and molded by centuries of Catholic and regional influence: it’s not celebrated exactly the same in any two regions. But there is a commonality which ties everything together, especially when it comes time to build the altar.

The ofrenda is constructed to help guide the spirits of family members back to the land of the living on the noche de muertos, the night of November 2. Incense, flowers, candles, clothes, and food are left out to lead the dead to the altar and their waiting families, who spend the night in the graveyard singing, playing music, drinking, and remembering.

These photos of Day of the Dead altars were taken in Jalisco, Mexico, between 2010 and 2015.