Each year, Galveston shop honors the dead with colorful altar
The altar honoring Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a feast for the eyes.
Draped in yellow and purple, with deep orange marigolds, sparkling sugar skulls, beeswax candles, and the personal mementos of friends and relatives who have died, the altar is an artistic way to honor the dead and serves as a reminder that life is beautiful and death claims us all.
“I believe an altar like this one is important and healing for those who have lost loved ones,” said Cheryl Jenkines, who each October creates this community altar in her shop, Hendley Market, 2010 Strand in Galveston’s downtown.
This year will mark her 21st altar at the market in as many years. But long before she became a shopkeeper, she honored this tradition.
Jenkines grew up in South Texas where her grandfather was a citrus farmer in the Rio Grande Valley. Dia de los Muertos was a part of the cultural fabric of her childhood, and one that she particularly enjoyed.
Historians believe the Day of the Dead festival originated with the Aztecs, who offered gifts to Mictecacihuatl, the Lady of the Dead.
After the Spanish conquest of Mexico and the intermingling of cultures and traditions, the celebrations were woven into the Catholic Church observance of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day, which fall on Nov. 1 and Nov. 2.
It’s a national holiday in Mexico.
“Anyone can make their own altar or they can contribute to our altar in Hendley Market,” Jenkines said.
Hendley Market’s altar is public, which means anyone may bring photographs or other remembrances to place on the altar, whether they are remembering a beloved family member or a pet.
“To make an altar is not difficult,” she said. “It can be large or small. Usually, it has two or more tiers, which can be accomplished with two boxes on top of a table covered with a cloth or paper covering.”
By tradition, altars are decorated with candles, marigolds, copal incense, sugar skulls and pan de muerto, or bread of the dead, each with a symbolic meaning, she said.
“But it’s the photographs and the personal items that make each altar individual and meaningful,” she said. “I also put a grapefruit on the altar to remember my grandfather. A friend’s grandmother was fond of Hennessy, so there is always a bottle of that, too.”