Dia de los Muertos Shoebox Altar

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On January of 2016, my father-in-law passed away.  How do you tell an 8-year old that his beloved Grandpa was no longer with us?  Talking about death, and “what we think” may be the afterlife has been a very difficult subject to discuss with him. However, we try to focus our conversations around ways to remember his Grandpa.  One way for him to cope with the loss was by us creating a memorial garden for him.  We also have pictures of Grandpa in our home, and we talk about him often to keep his memory alive.

That very same year, my Grandmother who he lovingly calls “Abuelita” passed away in October of 2016.  He traveled with me to Puerto Rico, and again we had the same conversation about where “they go”afterward.  We chose to talk about “Abuelita” and how he didn’t know how to pronounce that word and said “Bolita” instead. He would laugh, and remember her fondly.

The following year, we visited a Day of the Dead festival where they had an altar, and kids painted calaveras.  I explained to him the significance of the altar, and how it is used to remember our loved ones.   (If you’re interested in learning how to set-up an altar my friend Johana did an excellent job on this post:  How To Set Up A Family Altar for Day of the Dead.)

Back home in Puerto Rico, we observe All Souls’ Day. You can read all about it and how it is observed on a guest post I wrote for  Bilingual Beyoutiful on “All Souls’ Day Remembering and Praying for the Dead.”   I also wrote about the differences of Day of the Dead: All Saints Day, All Souls’ Day and Día de Muertos a while back, and how the tones are very different.


While we really don’t observe Day of the Dead I’ve been introducing it to my son slowly as a way to memorialize Grandpa’s and Abuelita’s memories.  The movie Coco from Disney Pixar, really helped him understand the beauty of remembering our deceased loved ones, and how skulls (calaveras) are “not so scary” after all.  With that being said, this year we made our very first shoebox altar to remember his Grandpa and Abuelita.


●Photos of Grandpa and Abuelita

●Ribbon (to make a frame around the picture)

●Colored construction paper (used to glue the picture on)

●Shoebox (I used a diorama ready-to-assemble box I found on clearance)

●Various colors of tissue paper or streamers

●String or yarn

●Glue and tape

●Marigold flowers (and some more in different colors)


●Battery-operated tea-light candle

●Small cross

●Calaveras (if you’d like to use them)

I cut the streamers in small pieces and he glued them to the yarn.  He also decorated the picture with a ribbon around each picture.  Flower ribbon for Abuelita, and musical note ribbon for Grandpa.  He placed the marigold flowers, and we had a tiny frame of Our Lady of Providence patron saint of Puerto Rico (with a Puerto Rican flag backdrop), a small cross and the battery-operated tea-light candles. It’s simple, and it’s exactly what my son wanted.  As you can tell, in our shoebox altar we didn’t use “calaveras” because honestly, skulls frighten him (and me, too!).  I asked our son if he wanted to use them, and he said no. So I respected his wishes.   Of course, there are so many ideas of how to decorate the shoebox altar. You can personalize it and make it your own.  This shoebox altar is just a simple idea.

Looking for more Day of the Dead crafts for kids?

Take a look at these:   Day of the Dead Sugar Skull Craft and Calavera Puppets for Day of the Dead

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