Day of the Dead Symbols

Day of the Dead symbols revolve primarily around skulls and skeletons, but there are also a few other Dia de los Muertos icons that are deeply rooted in the Day of the Dead tradition. On this page, we'll take a look at the other main Dia de los Muertos symbols that you should know about if you want to celebrate this festive holiday: altars and ofrendasmarigoldspapel picado, and pan de muerto.

Day of the Dead Altars and Ofrendas

On the days and weeks leading up to Dia de los Muertos, people create and adorn altars to honor their dead loved ones. They take great care to create altars that are lovingly arranged and tastefully decorated.

The gifts that they lay out on the altars are called ofrendas, or offerings. On November 1 and 2, the dead return to the living and enjoy the ofrendas as gifts.

Here is an example of a Day of the Dead altar with ofrenda:

Day of the Dead altar Photo credit: Roberto Robles

Day of the Dead altar
Photo credit: Roberto Robles

Ofrendas include items such as: candles, incense, water, pan de muertos, marigolds, a variety of foods and sweets, drinks, photos of the deceased, and items that once belonged to the deceased. You can see many of these items in the ofrenda above.

You can learn more about Day of the Dead altars here or you can learn how to build your own.

Marigolds

Marigolds are another important Day of the Dead symbol. These yellow flowers are a symbol of death, referred to as the "flower of the dead". In Spanish they are known as cempazuchitl, cempasuchil or zempasuchitl.

You'll see marigolds sprinkled on Day of the Dead altars and also on graves, as shown below.

Graveyard decorated with marigolds for Dia de los Muertos Photo credit: Eneas de Troya

Graveyard decorated with marigolds for Dia de los Muertos
Photo credit: Eneas de Troya

Marigolds are also fashioned into elaborate arches for display on altars and graves. In some villages, people leave a trail of marigolds from their front door to their loved one's grave, so that the deceased may easily find their way back home again. The attractive scent of the marigold is said to draw them back to earth for the yearly Dia de los Muertos reunion.

Papel Picado

Papel picado - Photo credit: Chuchomotas

Papel picado - Photo credit: Chuchomotas

Papel picado is a popular Day of the Dead decoration. Papel picado refers to colorful tissue paper that is cut with elaborate designs that depict the holiday spirit. Images of grinning skulls and cavorting skeletons are the most prevalent papel picado designs you'll see during Dia de los Muertos, when altars, shops and cemeteries are decorated with papel picado.

You can learn more about papel picado here.

Pan de Muerto

Traditional Pan de Muerto

Pan de muerto is one of the staple foods offered and eaten during Day of the Dead. Pan de muerto (which means "bread of the dead") is a sweet bread made from egg that can be purchased in numerous shapes. The most popular shapes for pan de muertos are of course, skulls and skeletons! That's because pan de muerto symbolizes the souls of the departed. You can make your own by following this recipe.

This page covers just some of the Day of the Dead symbols - but let's not forget about skulls and skeleton! Click to learn more about skull and skeleton Day of the Dead symbols.

Return to the main Day of the Dead page.