Halloween in New Mexico is a little different. There are the usual Halloween decorations and trick-or-treating, of course, but it’s followed by Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead, which celebrates loved ones who have died. And “celebrates” is an appropriate word: this is not a morbid or even solemn festival. Tradition calls for the construction of an ofrenda (offering), a sort of altar.
My housemate and I set up an ofrenda on the sideboard every year. We drape it with lace panels, hang a string of papel picado and little LED lights, and put out photographs of deceased family members, interspersed with little pumpkins, autumn flowers, candy or other treats they liked, water, and battery-operated candles. We also include symbols of deceased heroes: a model space shuttle, a miniature fireman’s helmet and a police car for first responders, pictures of people we admire who have died within the past year.
The ofrenda may contain all kinds of things—a photograph and some object of significance to the person (like a baseball for a baseball player or a toy for a child), it should also contain things that “represent the four elements: fire (candles), wind (papel picado), earth (food), and water.” Sugar skulls, marigolds and incense are also traditional.
And no, the cat on the offrenda is not an offering. She’s just being a smart aleck.