Sisters Maria and Teresa Vivar
demonstrate the way to make and use two important Day of the Dead alter
elements: marigolds and papel picado. In this case the marigolds (traditionally
fresh flowers) are made with crepe paper, and the papel picado is made from
In the video, Maria demonstrates how to cut, wrap, and glue
tissue or crepe paper into beautiful paper representations of live marigolds,
the traditional flower used in Day of the Dead altars. Maria learned this
method from her mentor after cold weather destroyed the local community’s
marigold crop one year; Maria now teaches this method to others in workshops
and community gatherings.
As you’ll learn, marigolds (and the fruits, bread and other
food decorating the altar) symbolize Earth, one of the four elements necessary
to construct an altar. The other elements are Fire (represented by candles),
Water (usually a dish or cup of water), and Air (here symbolized by delicate
tissue paper cut with symmetrical designs).
To create Papel Picado, Maria layers and folds
multiple sheets of colored tissue paper into triangle shapes. Then, using sharp
scissors, she makes small, symmetrical cuts along the edges of the folded
paper. When she finishes and unfolds the paper, each sheet contains detailed,
delicate shapes made from the small cuts. Whereas marigolds must be made from
yellow or orange paper, papel picado may be made in any color and any design,
according to the maker’s desire and the way they wish to honor the departed.