Day of the Dead Advent
By Jessica Wilson
Every year I plan to make a Day of the Dead altar in honor of my mom and every year, I lose track of time and never manage to pull it off. This year, I have created a countdown, an advent of sorts so that you take a couple of hours on one day to gather your supplies and create your jar of advent, and then, for 10 days, you spend a little time working on your altar/shrine while reminiscing about your loved ones passed. Make sure to begin your altar no later than October 22.
If you are thinking of joining in on Crafty Chica’s Day of the Dead Challenge but feel intimidated, never fear, this tutorial breaks it down for you in 10 easy steps!
Glass jar A pasta sauce jar works well.
Assortment of accoutrements that represent your loved one
Votive candles, tea lights or flameless candles
Sweets and/or chocolates
Flowers fresh or faux
A clean space for your altar, or if making a shrine, a cigar box, tin, or egg carton lid
Crepe paper streamer(s)
Glitter, sequins, or other shiny fun
Paint of your choice, fabric, or pretty papers
Day 1: Grab a clean jar of any size — I used a pasta sauce jar. Then take a wee trip through your casa to collect an assortment of items that represent your loved one. You will also want to add some small pieces of chocolate and sweets. My altar is a tribute to my mother and grandmother, both of whom were crafty, sewing ladies. In my jar, I have gathered small photos, vintage spools, my grandmother’s locket and thimble, fabric roses from my mother’s garland, and her favorite candies. If you are making a small shrine, go for the smallest items you can find.
I have to tell ya that the jars can turn out so pretty that you may just wish to keep all that you’ve collected in the jar. If you do, be sure to decorate the outside of the jar. Don’t forget, glitter and the Day of the Dead go hand in hand!
Day 2: Designate your altar space if you are making an altar. If you are making a shrine, find yourself a small tin, cigar box, box lid, or matchbox even. It may also help to find a shelf or clutter-free space to deposit your goods.
If you are making an altar, it’s time to gather your paper and/or fabric to decorate with. This step is not necessary, but adding a splash of color underneath all your items makes it a wee bit prettier and can tie into the colors of the flowers and tissue garland you choose. If you are making a shrine, paint your vessel and set it aside to dry.
Day 3: Shrine makers, it’s time to add any outside decorations you like. Altar makers, gather your crepe paper streamer and roll out enough to travel the length of your altar space. Get yourself some sharp scissors and make your own mini version of papel picados. You can use decorative punches as well as scissors. Make it as fancy as you like or just fringe it up a bit. When you are finished, tack it on up to your altar space using double-stick tape, glue dots, or wall putty. Admire your work and go make some Mexican hot chocolate. You’re done for the day!
Day 4: Now it’s time for your centerpiece. Dig through your jar and pull out your photos. If you are using a large photo in a frame, you’re good to go. Place your photo in the center of your altar. If your photos are loose, you can tack them to a temporary frame you make or you can scan them into your computer and print them out to adhere to a glass votive or cylinder. My altar space and pics are small, so I’ve tacked one of them to a small piece of cardboard that I painted. If you are making a shrine, size your photo to fit your shrine and affix with the adhesive your choice.
Day 5: Next, decorate with items that are too large for your jar, if you have any. I have a mug that belonged to my granny and a piece of doll furniture, in memory of my mother’s collection. These are the items you will use to balance your altar. Set them out and play with them a bit. They don’t have to be perfect — you still have a few days to work on it. Shrine makers, you may play along here if you plan to add your shrine to an altar. If not, you get a break today.
Day 6: Bring on the jar! Dump out your jar and arrange the small items around your altar. You can use doilies and/or small dishes to keep them more organized. If you are making a shrine, use the smallest items for your shrine. Use glue or putty to affix the items. We’re almost done!
Day 7: Today is all about bones. If you can find yourself some sugar skulls to purchase, then go for it. If you’re ambitious, you can make your own with sugar or felt. Same goes for those small Day of the Dead figurines. They are super nifty to own but can be a bit pricey. If you don’t have any or prefer to make your own you can use what you have on hand; Sculpey, clay, shrink plastic or felt would work fine. I used some felt to make a soft skeleton doll. She was pretty easy to make even if her head is a bit floppy. I first embroidered her skull onto some white felt with a few other felt pieces glued on. After I hand-stitched the skull, I used a machine to stitch the body and head together, leaving a small opening for the stuffing. The pipe cleaner arms were tacked on by hand.
Day 8: Let there be light! If you are making your altar on a top shelf or mantle, you can add candles. Dollar stores tend to carry saint candles that can be jazzed up or covered over with your own pics. Just print out what you want, cover the back with adhesive, and stick it onto the glass. If you do not have the space or tall candles, you can add small votives, tea lights, or twinkle lights. I picked up a vanilla scented “electric” candle. It looks like a candle but is battery powered. I picked up the vanilla because my mother was a big time baker and our house always smelled like vanilla. I also doctored up a dollar store candleholder to make it more Day of the Dead-like. I used a black Sharpie and colored in the eyes and outlines. I then added a few swirls, squiggles, and dots. Presto! A dollar store calavera. Never leave a lighted candle on your altar when you are not home. We want to keep your casa safe!
Shrine makers, you can use small tea lights and decorate them with sequins and such. Or if your feeling extra crafty, use a length of wire to wrap around a birthday candle and then wrap that around your shrine.
Day 9: Prepare to be bedazzled! Grab your glue and your sequins and go to town jazzing up the bits and pieces you can. If you are making a shrine, you get to go crazy with the glitter. Remember, the more the merrier! Your shrine and/or altar are really coming together now!
Day 10: It’s flower time! Traditionally speaking, marigolds are the flower of choice for Day of the Dead. Fresh flowers are the best and full of fragrance. Silk or tissue flowers are just as pretty and great for those who are allergic. Today is the day you set out to find flowers. Depending on the size of your altar you may want big sunflowers or tiny geraniums. If you opt not to get fresh flowers, you can find pretty fake specimens at your local craft store. Or, if you are feeling crafty, you can make some out of tissue paper.
If you are making a shrine, millinery flowers work perfectly, or you can of course make your own as well.
Oh, and if you want real flowers but don’t have room for them, you can pull them apart and scatter the petals throughout. It makes for a pretty impact.
Your shrine or altar should pretty much be done. You may have found you want it less cluttered or you may want to add more goodies. It’s all up to you. That’s all folks; I hope you enjoy your altar-making adventure and look forward to seeing what you come up with!
About the Author:
Jessica Wilson is most happily known as ‘jek in the box’ and spends most of her time crafting it up and taking pictures. She can often be found standing on benches over on Flickr and creating all sorts of kiddie crafts on her blog scrumdilly-do! She lives a life of scrumdillydilly and loves to share.