Chocolate, tamales and pulque: St. Louisans honor deceased at Day of the Dead public altar
Leticia Seitz carefully arranges chocolate bars, bright orange marigolds and photographs of late Mexican icons on an altar in front of her south St. Louis boutique.
“We’re going to set down some chocolate for the kids, fruits and their Takis,” she murmurs in Spanish. “Pulque for my father, his cigars too.”
Seitz, 52, is among the millions who honor their deceased loved ones during El Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. The largely Mexican tradition is typically observed Oct. 31 to Nov. 2 and is celebrated with intricate displays of photographs and ofrendas — offerings to the spirits of those who have died, such as favorite drinks, sweet breads and tamales.
“It's a celebration of their lives,” she said. “It's a celebration for us to remember them and a chance to connect with your roots."
Seitz is hosting her inaugural community altar outside her store, Arte Rojo STL, at 5208 Hampton Ave. Community members can add a small photograph of their late loved ones to the altar or leave an ofrenda.
From the brilliant flowers she sourced from hours away in rural Missouri, to the papel picado and the pan de muerto, everything on the altar has a meaning, Seitz said.
An archway adorned with cempazúchitl flowers — or Aztec marigolds — are there to welcome the souls of deceased loved ones. Delicate paper monarch butterflies are nestled in the altar to represent immigration journeys to the U.S.
“This is what we would like to do to share our traditions, our cultural customs, with the community who doesn’t know about Día de los Muertos,” she said. “Maybe [some people] saw Coco, but they don't have anything real like the altar we're doing.”
The response to the altar so far has been positive, Seitz explained Tuesday, noting community members’ curiosity with traditions they didn't grow up with and her passion for teaching.
“Having [the altar] here is important to me and for the community in Mexico," she said. "Because it’s keeping my culture, it’s keeping my traditions; it’s keeping the fight to not forget all of this.”
The public is welcome to drop off small ofrendas through Wednesday evening at the altar outside Arte Rojo STL, 5208 Hampton Ave. The display will be up until 3 p.m. Nov. 3. You can also honor your loved one with an audio ofrenda by recording a voice note on your phone and emailing it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
See photos of the Day of the Dead celebrations below:
Brian Munoz is a staff photojournalist and multimedia reporter at St. Louis Public Radio. You can reach him by email at email@example.com and follow his work on Instagram and Twitter at @brianmmunoz.