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Sunday, October 26, 2014

Día de los Muertos: los altares

When Becky of Kid World Citizen recently reminded me that Chicago is home to the National Museum of Mexican Art, I mentally filed that under "check it out someday soon!" So when the NMMA's "Rito y Recuerdo" exhibit topped Aimee's (Raising World Citizens) list of Chicago's "must-do's" for Día de los Muertos, we were ready to go!

Wow!... or "¡Guau!" What an impressive display! More than 60 artists participated in the creation of this exhibit, which includes "altares y ofrendas," installations, and popular art. We maximized the exhibit by joining a guided tour, and learned so much more than the "altares" basics we knew upon arrival.  

Here are the highlights, for other Día de los Muertos neophytes like us:

An altar would traditionally be constructed in 3 tiers, each tier making an important representation: the underworld, earth, and heaven. Of course, in all things Día de los Muertos, the underworld is not depicted as a horrible place full of misery, and on Día itself, its residents are always seen celebrating!

Along with photos, personal mementos and trinkets, each of the 4 elements - earth, air, fire, and water - are commonly represented in the items chosen for the ofrenda. Fire and water are easy to spot in the candles and drink offerings. Fruits and grains, and even clay pots, can represent the earth. Air can be a bit of a stretch, at least in the "altares" we saw, where altar shawls and "papel picado" that blow in the wind symbolized air.

I imagine there was plenty more to learn, but 6 year olds don't necessarily enjoy the lengthy nature of guided museum tours, so that is the extent of our "altares de muertos" knowledge acquisition for this year.  Never mind, though: we have already decided on a return visit to the NMMA for Día de los Muertos 2015! (And next year, I have a feeling the then-7-year-old will bring enough money to buy a bigger sugar skull!)

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If you've enjoyed this peak into "altares y ofrendas" and are ready to try your own, MommyMaestra is running an Ofrenda Photo Contest. To make it more fun, one of my favorite books is included in the prize pack!

Excited to teach your kids or students more about Día de los Muertos? Be sure to check out my Día de los Muertos Bilingual Activity Pack, with a book, mini-books, and activity sheets, all in English and Spanish!


  1. Pinned to my Spanish resources board. Thank you for this clear description!

    1. Wonderful! Thank you for pinning! We learned so much at the exhibit; so glad to pass it on!