Day of the Dead ofrendas are the centerpiece of the Day of the Dead celebration, one of Mexico’s oldest traditions and still an important way for modern families to maintain a connection with their ancestors.

Candles left on a Day of the Dead altar certainly illuminate the altar at night for observers and the living, but they have an underlying purpose: to help guide the dead back to their families on the Day of the Dead. On November 1, altars are set up for El Día de los Angelitos, the Day of the Little Angels, which remembers deceased children. November 2 is the main celebration when the spirits of the adults return to their ofrendas.

If you’re curious what each object left at the altar represents, you’ll probably enjoy this article, “Deciphering the Meaning of the Day of the Dead Altar.”

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On of the many Day of the Dead altars on the street for friends and family in Ajijic, Jalisco, Mexico.
Altar for friends and family on the street in Ajijic, Jalisco, Mexico.
Grave on Noche de los Angelitos, celebrated on November 1 to remember deceased children.
A grave on the Día de los Angelitos, celebrated on November 1 to remember children who have died.
Day of the Dead altar for Saint Toribio Romo and Humphrey Bogart in Chapala, Jalisco.
A Day of the Dead altar for Humphrey Bogart and Saint Toribio Romo in Chapala, Jalisco.
One of the Day of the Dead altars in Ixtlahuacán de los Membrillos, Jalisco.
This Day of the Dead ofrenda is for José Guadalupe Posada, originator of the calavera catrina, which has become one of the holiday’s most enigmatic symbols.
Day of the Dead Altar in Ixtlahuacan de los Membrillos, Jalisco, Mexico.
This altar remembers Roberto Gómez Bolaños, more commonly called Chespirito. He was a Mexican actor, writer, director, comedian and regarded as one of the Spanish language’s top titans of humor. He died in 2014.
An elaborate altar in Ixtlahuacan de los Membrillos, Jalisco, Mexico, on the Day of the Dead.
An altar in Ixtlahuacán de los Membrillos, Jalisco, during the Days of the Dead.
Altar for Miguel Miramontes, one of Jalisco's most important sculptors.
Miguel Miramontes was one of Jalisco’s most important sculptors. He lived out the last of his years in the Chapala area of the state and died in 2015.
An altar for Lupe Tijerina of Los Cadetes de los Linares, a famous Mexican band formed in 1960.
This altar remembers Lupe Tijerina, the head of the norteño band Los Cadetes de los Linares, who died in 2016. Los Cadetes are one of Mexico’s longest-playing groups, now 57 years old.
An altar in Chapala, Jalisco, on Noche de Muertos (November 2).
An altar on the Night of the Dead in Chapala, Jalisco.
Day of the Dead Altar for a man fromIxtlahuacán de los Membrillos, Jalisco.
A Day of the Dead altar for a man from Ixtlahuacán de los Membrillos, Jalisco, Mexico.
Ofrenda on the Noche de Muertos in Chapala, Jalisco, Mexico.
An altar on the Noche de Muertos in Chapala, Jalisco.
Day of the Dead Altar in Chapala, Jalisco.
An altar for a family on the Noche de Muertos in Chapala, Jalisco, Mexico.
Handmade decorations light up an altar for a baby on a tomb in the Ajijic, Jalisco, graveyard.
Handmade decorations light up an altar for a baby on a tomb in the graveyard in Ajijic, Jalisco.
A Day of the Dead Altar for a woman from Ajijic, Jalisco.
An altar for a woman from Ajijic, Jalisco, Mexico, on the Day of the Dead.