The photo above was scanned out of the book, but it is exactly as the plaza was the day that I was there. Censers and candle holders were plentiful. They cost pennies. I bought many and gave them to friends upon my return to San Miguel. Their pottery is very primitive and is meant to be used for the feast and then disposed of, I presume.
There is NOTHING primitive about their white, satin altars. White denotes that the departed soul has died within the year. It can be for a child or for an adult. If you click on the photos you can see more in detail the items on the altars.
In the book I mentioned, there is a first person account by Froylan Martinez Cuenca, an altar builder. It is fascinating. In 1989 he had been building altars for 25 years and the average cost of a satin altar was between $2000 and $5000 US dollars. Factor in that the average daily wage then was $4.00US a day and you are boggled about the cost and the IMPORTANCE of these altars to the families. I have read and reread this account, always being overwhelmed by the history and importance of this day in Mexico to the Mexican people.
Notice in this photo the mirror placed on the first tier of the altar. It is so you can see the detail underneath and the pleating of the satin. Amazing isn't it?
To see these altars one goes to the homes of the people. You are welcomed in and offered refreshments - in most cases it was jamaica (a drink made from the flower of hibiscus) and cookies. In the humble houses I entered, there were usually ALL the family members and a few guests, I being one of them. Everyone was so gracious and was very pleased to have "guests".
I have several books on Dia de Muertos and they are the one I mentioned above plus Dia de Muertos by Artes de Mexico, Issue # 62 and Through the Eyes of the Soul, Day of the Dead in Mexico - Michoacan.
Can you possibly imagine experiencing anything like this in the USA, I can't.