Unexpected Ofrenda

Last year I made what I ended up calling our “first and last ofrenda” … Eager to start a new tradition on a holiday as beautiful as Día de los Muertos, I made an altar for Carlos’s father without realizing that Carlos grew up in a country, (El Salvador), that, for the most part, doesn’t take part in the type of Day of the Dead festivities you usually think of when you think about November 2nd.

In El Salvador, Carlos explained, Day of the Dead, or “Día de los Difuntos” as I hear his family call it, is a somber day to go to the cemetery, clean the graves of loved ones, decorate the graves with flowers, have names repainted on the tombstone, and maybe stick around for a quiet picnic. Unlike Mexico, or neighboring Guatemala, El Salvador doesn’t really celebrate Day of the Dead with fun parties.

Being that Carlos wasn’t comfortable having an altar for his father, I thought this was one tradition that just wasn’t meant to be for our family, but my boys had other ideas.

“Aren’t you going to make an ofrenda this year? I liked that tradition,” my older son asked.

“I liked it too but it made Daddy unhappy to have an altar for his father so we shouldn’t make one this year.”

“But we can make a different one. I’d like to have one for Ginger,” he said, referring to the family dog we put down over the summer.

“Can you have an ofrenda for a dog?” he asked, “Cause they have spirits, too.”

I agreed, and so that is why I made an ofrenda for Ginger this evening, instead of working on various other things I was supposed to be doing.

Ginger liked to chase rabbits that would slip under the fence right before she caught them – though I would bet money that had she ever caught one, she wouldn’t have known what to do with it – I think she just wanted to play. She was a tall German Shepherd mix who played gentle with all creatures smaller than herself – from other dogs, to cats, and even babies.

We adopted her from the Humane Society and it seemed like she always remembered that and thanked us for it. She didn’t know any fancy tricks – just the basics – but she was bilingual – responding to commands in both English and Spanish. We jokingly called her “Jengibre” since “Ginger” is the name she came with and I wanted to give her a Spanish name. Suegra found it disturbing that the dog’s name tag said “Ginger López” – she had never met a dog with a last name before.

Ginger loved to be wherever I was. Even if she was comfortable laying on the other side of the room, all I had to do was make eye contact and she’d get up to come closer to me. She refused to catch a frisbee or play fetch but she loved to play chase, especially if you had a pocketful of breakfast cereal. Her only sin was climbing up on the sofa when no one was home, but she had enough respect to climb down when she heard the keys in the door.

We miss Ginger. She was described by family and neighbors as “a sweetheart.” We hope she’s chasing rabbits in a better place.


  1. What a sweet experience, Tracy! I didn’t know that about El Salvador, and while we never celebrated El Día de los Muertos in the true Mexican sense of the word, I too think it’s a beautiful tradition. One I hope to one day adopt much more respectably. Un abrazo a tu familia :-)

  2. Pretty sure your post brought a tear to my eye. How adorable that your son wanted to continue the tradition, and what a sweet way to remember your dog. What does Carlos think of the “Dog ofrenda?” I know I would get quite the eye roll from my husband on that one, but that’s the beauty of blending two cultures! The latino “ofrenda” and the American love for our pets! Works for me!

  3. I totally get the gratitude that a rescue dog seems to have, Molly has the same gratitude! The other night, when the kids were trick or treating, lots of the kids who came to our door knew Molly. They touch lives, the dogs. I love that you guys honored Ginger in this way! Love it!

  4. I’m pretty sure Ginger came back last night and had so much fun with the altar you made him :) I’ve seen several altares to animals at Día de los Muertos events!! Including one made to the animals that were first sent to space: Laika the dog, and Baker the monkey. It broke my heart :( On another note, German Shepherds are soo kind and sweet! We have one, Frida, she’s 4 years old and we brought her from México. I hope she stays with us for many many years, but when she goes I’m also making a little altar for her!

  5. Awww que linda! Even though it is belated, I am sorry for your family’s loss.. Blessed are those that adopt shelter animals. :) Of course the suegra comment made me LOL.

  6. I think it’s great that you’re trying to teach you’re children about their Salvadoran culture, even though it can be hard at times to find information on it. But I just wanted to say that even though in El Salvador we don’t celebrate as they do in México we do have some special traditions. Such as making ayote en miel or lighting candles for ones loved ones who have passed away among others. Oh! There is also a celebration called La Calabuiza you should research it’s quiet interesting. Salú

    • Jesus – I will absolutely look into La Calabuiza. My husband left El Salvador when he was about 18 years old and so he’s forgotten some things. Hopefully if I mention it to him, he’ll remember.


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