I was raised on and off by my Obachan (Japanese grandma). I grew up with the culture and the customs throughout my childhood. In her “Japanese room”, as I grew up calling it, was a shrine with images of framed photos of her parents and siblings who had passed away. Trinkets that belonged to them and incense were placed around the photos. We would place tea and their favorite foods before them on the shrine and light the incense. I would kneel on the floor with my Obachan, as she shared stories of them and updated them on living loved ones. The moments were most often filled with my grandma laughing to the point of tears. The moments were less about sadness and more about joy and living.
When my mom married my step-dad he introduced us to Mexican customs and culture. One being Día de Muertos, or Day of the Dead. Building an ofrenda (offering) became a yearly tradition in our family. The similarities between the Japanese and the Mexican culture of honoring the dead and keeping their memories alive through story was so similar to me, but the two cultures could not be further apart.
This is a tradition that I now share with my daughter. When we visit my Obachan, we have tea with her before the shrine and share stories of trips taken, goals scored and life lived with our past relatives. At home we keep a space for loved ones that have passed, both 2 and 4-legged, for my daughter and I to share memories and to create space for joy and sadness. Yearly, we build an ofrenda with marigolds, images and favorite foods, sugar skulls and more…
I think it’s so important to share with our children stories of our ancestors. Our family tree is full of immigrants, veterans, bravery, kindness, exploration, farmers, sacrifice, wars, love, marriage, tragedy, oceans crossed and chance encounters. All of those stories lived from loved ones passed had to happen for my daughter to be alive at this very moment.
Let’s find out what makes you uniquely, amazingly, incredibly you!
How to make an ofrenda:
- Build an altar with your family (a table or shelf works)
- Add the elements - water, wind, fire, earth
- For water, that can be a cup of water to quench the spirits’ thirst after their journey, or sometimes the deceased’s favorite drink.
- Wind can be represented by “papel picado”, a colorful cutout paper banner that moves in the breeze.
- Candles represent fire and also illuminate the path that guides the souls to the altar.
- Earth is represented by fruits, dirt and flowers — specifically marigolds (which are known as the flower of the dead).
- Incorporate memorial items such as photos and things that they loved (maybe a favorite record or book)
- Food and drink - Día de Muertos is about your loved one coming back to share a meal with you, so prepare a feast for your family to enjoy together.
- Other items you could include: religious elements, arches (known to create a physical portal for the souls to enter our world), sugar skulls (used to introduce children to the holiday and to the idea that death and dead people can be celebratory instead of frightening)