Every year, the Jacinto City Branch Library creates a community ofrenda for the Day of the Dead with help from community volunteers and invites people in the community to contribute pictures of their loved ones who have passed to put on our ofrenda. Due to health and safety concerns, we have thought of something different this year. With the help of other Harris County Public Library staff, we have created the Harris County Public Library Ofrenda Project, which is available online to help us celebrate together in a time when being together can seem very difficult.
The staff at the Jacinto City asked our friends at the other 25 HCPL branches and our Administration Offices to send us pictures of loved ones who have passed that they would like to honor and have included them on this page for you to see, along with information on this holiday to encourage you to celebrate your loved ones.
Explore this webpage and try building your own ofrenda at home! If you would like to share your ofrenda or honor a loved one in our scrapbook, take pictures and include #HCPLDiaDeLosMuertos to your Instagram and Facebook posts.
In order to make this year's Día de los Muertos celebration special during these difficult times, the Jacinto City Branch Library asked staff from all across the Harris County Public Library system, to submit photos and words to commemorate their loved ones who have passed away. This video is a memorial video and our way to share a little of our culture with all of Harris County. We hope you enjoy. Please remember to use #HCPLDiaDeLosMuertos on your Facebook and Instagram posts to be included in our digital scrapbook.
How to Prepare for Día de la Muertos
Key Components of an Ofrenda
Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is a celebration of life and death that is observed by Mexican and other Latin American cultures. Not to be confused with Halloween, this holiday is a way to speak about and view death as not an ending but as a continuation of a natural process. Despite being a day to remember loved ones that have died, the celebration is happy, bright and colorful, a celebration of the lives of the departed. Food, music and laughter is a very important aspect of Día de los Muertos celebrations.
The ancient cultures of Latin America believed that the spirits returned to the land of the living once a year and Día de los Muertos is a way to welcome them back. When the Spanish came to Mexico, instead of trying to eradicate the traditions of the indigenous peoples, they adopted the traditions and adapted them to fit within the Catholic religion’s teachings. November 1st became All Saints Day.
Día de los Inocentes
November 1st, is traditionally known as Día de los Inocentes (Day of the Innocents) and is meant to honor and memorialize children who have died.
Día de los Difuntos
November 2nd, is traditionally known as Día de los Difuntos (Day of the Departed/Dead) and is meant to honor and memorialize all departed adult souls.
The main part of celebrating Día de los Muertos is the construction of an ofrenda (altar) which symbolizes a welcome for the departed spirits. The ofrenda can be constructed either at home or at the departed person’s grave. Depending on different socioeconomic factors, such as wealth and status, the ofrenda can be elaborate or simple. The ofrenda includes different items that represent aspects of the necessary elements of life: water, wind, fire, and earth.
- Water is represented by a cup or pitcher of water, and is meant to satisfy the spirit’s thirst.
- Fire is represented by the lit candles on the ofrenda and are used to symbolically guide the spirit to the land of the living.
- Wind is represented by the use of papel picado (tissue paper cut-outs). Usually intricately made to show streets, people and skeleton figures, the papel picado is made of brightly colored paper that waves in the breeze which is why it is used to symbolize the element of wind.
- Earth is represented by food and includes the traditional Mexican bread called pan de muerto (bread of the dead) that is made and used specifically in Día de los Muertos celebrations. The bread is usually flavored with anise and orange to make it both sweet and fragrant and again symbolizes the main physical state of life.
Otras partes de la ofrenda
Other aspects of the ofrenda include: a picture of the departed, the favorite foods of the departed, copal (an incense), fruit and an arco (arch). The ofrenda will include any items that were dear to the departed in the hopes of making it more personal and appealing to the spirits to return for a visit.
The picture of the departed is placed proudly on the ofrenda as a reminder and also to welcome the spirit back. It will oftentimes be the most prominent aspect of the ofrenda.
Copal incense symbolizes the change from the physical state to the supernatural, as the tree is transformed to smoke as the incense is burned. The smoke is also thought to take the prayers for the departed to heaven.
Calaveritas de azúcar (sugar skulls) are another common part of what are used to decorate ofrendas. They are very recognizable and used to symbolize “death and the sweetness of life” (Smithsonian Latino Virtual Museum LVM Day of the Dead).
The pre-Columbian Aztec culture used cempasúchil (marigolds) to symbolize death. The flowers became another traditional aspect of ofrendas and are associated with many of the Dia de los Muertos traditions and celebrations. Oftentimes, the cempasúchil is scattered from the grave of the departed to the ofrenda to guide them home.
Calaveras (skeletons) are oftentimes associated with Día de los Muertos and used as symbolic representations of the dead. They can often be seen dressed as living people or participating in activities much like living people. Despite the scary association that skeletons normally have, these calaveras are not meant to scare, instead they are celebrated and people can be seen painting their faces during celebrations and parties for Día de los Muertos.