Shoebox Altar - Cheekwood
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Shoebox Altara

About the tradition: 

Families gather to build altars honoring their deceased loved ones. They fill them with photos, favorite foods and personal items of their loved ones, making each one unique. Every item placed on the altar has a special significance. Some are meant to entice and guide the spirits home, provide a safe space for them, cleanse them, and be a reminder of the wonderful experiences of life.

Learn more about El Día de los Muertos and altars from Alma Paz-Sanmiguel from Vanderbilt’s Center for Latin American Studies, and local performer Rachel Rodriguez!

Make Your Own!

Here’s what you’ll need:

• Shoebox or other small box

• Clear tape/double sided tape

• Glue

• Scissors

• Pictures of loved ones

• Personal items of loved ones honoring

• Battery operated tea lights

• Real or fake marigolds

• Mini foods

• Wrapping paper/construction paper for covering shoebox

• Tissue paper

• Scissors

• String/yarn

• Sugar skulls


1. If your box has flaps, cut the flaps off. They can be used to add levels in your box. You can also leave them to extend your altar.

2. Wrap your box in colorful paper.

3. Add the pictures of who the altar is for inside the box.

4. Decorate by adding in the personal items of the people you are honoring. We used Frida Kahlo in our altar so we are adding in paint brushes and paint as personal items. You can add in favorite foods, clothing, or other items that belonged to or represent the person your altar is for.

5. Finish your altar by adding in additional items such as sugar skulls, tea lights, marigolds, and any other decoration.

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