Ever since I learned about this beautiful holiday, I've wanted to create an alter of my own to celebrate and honor my dead. But it never really happened. A lack of gumption perhaps, or a lack of space, or lack of inspiration. I never really knew or could imagine how to create those gorgeous altars that just seemed so jubilant and fun!
But this year is different. This year, I have finally cleared out space for my "spiritual things" and have a small altar of my own where I honor nature, the seasons, and my Jewish and Pagan beliefs. With the space already carved out, it was completely natural to decorate it--FINALLY-for DDLM.
I started by cleaning my altar--I had it set up for Sukkot/Mabon/general end of summer. So I changed the cloth, strung some orange LED lights and dusted everything.
My first task were the paper flowers. I had seen how to make them a GAZILLION times, but never did, because I never needed them-and had never really seen any that really looked cool. But I got out my tissue paper and gave it a shot. My first one looks like perhaps the first paper flower I ever made--because it was, but it was the learning piece I needed to figure out the tricks. The big trick I learned is that the online instructions to have 5 or 6 pieces of tissue paper is a crock. Once I started making them with 8+ they really started to come together. I also, once I had separated the flowers, I found that if I wrapped a piece of wire around the bottom, I got a prettier blossom. Kinda like I separated them, then squooshed them together all in one direction, wrapped a wire around the bottom of that like a ponytail holder, and then fluffed it out again. That made the flower more "flowery."
My next task were some skulls. With a toddler in the house and my altar at his level, I knew sugar skulls were out of the question. So I schlepped on down to Michael's and picked up a few Halloween skulls. They were unfortunately already painted to look like, well, dug up
skulls I guess, so I had to go over them with a few coats of craft paint to whiten them up. From there, I copied a few pictures of decorated skulls from the internet and busted out my paint, brushes and glitter. The first one is…ok. I'm not entirely happy with it, but it's fun. My second one came out better because I felt more confident and I just let the muse take me in
different directions. The third skull--the big one--scared me a little. But I took my time, penciled in my designs before I started, and just didn't worry about it. It's hardly perfect--but it looks awesome on my altar!
The third component of my altar were the papel picado. I had to do a long search for templates-and after a logn search through strange sites (search at your own risk!) i printed them, cut them out and prepared my tissue paper. I made @ 15 in all, and strung them willy-nilly over the altar. I wanted them to capture the festivity of it all, and they really have. I love the way they look!
And of course, my altar would not be complete without pictures of loved ones that have passed over. I have several of my grandparents, their families, Pete's dad, and a few baseball players for Pete. I think he was hoping their presence on the altar would help his team make it past the first round of playoffs (they were Red's players that passed) but no such luck. But it was a nice way for him to feel part of the process.
Paganally (I just made that a new word) this altar is also fitting for Samhein or Halloween. Symbolically, Samhein signifies the death of the God, and the opening up of the realm between the world of the living and the world of the dead. How better to show our love and devotion by building a beautiful and colorful altar?
Tonight, I plan to put out a glass of Maneschevitz for my grandmother (she LOVED the stuff) and a glass of whiskey for my grandad. It makes me smile to see my altar daily--colorful and bright instead of the dour traditions that surround death. I'm not saying death is an easy thing for the living to deal with, but it sure would change our dispositions a bit if we could celebrate lives well lived, instead of death and loss.
Take a few minutes this Dia de los Muertos and remember your loved ones that have passed over. Have a drink with them and tell them you love them. THAT'S what keeps them alive!
Blessed Samhein and Happy Dia de Los Muertos!