How to Host a Lively Day of the Dead Party
Halloween has a firm hold on Americans, but this fall we're exploring an even sweeter tradition: Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. We'll share tips for hosting a Mexican-inspired Day of the Dead party.
By Caitlyn Diimig
Day of the Dead Party Products You Can Buy Online
This Mexican holiday of remembrance is traditionally observed between October 31 and November 2. While Halloween conjures up the idea that what lies beyond the grave is spooky, Day of the Dead embraces the spirits of those we've lost. And it truly isn't somber—it's a colorful, joyful, and delicious celebration! Observers of the tradition prepare their loved ones' favorite dishes as offerings in hopes that the food will help guide their spirits back from the afterlife.
While we can't know what your lost loved ones' most treasured dishes were, we've rounded up a few Mexican recipes Allrecipes community members love, as well as a host of beautiful Mexican-made and Mexican-inspired decorations for a festive party you and your living guests are sure to enjoy.
Day of the Dead Party Menu
1. Beef Tamales
Cooking together creates lasting, happy memories—a hallmark of Dia de los Muertos. So assemble these tamales as part of the party. It's easier than it looks, especially when you have help!
Atole is a masa-thickened beverage, often served hot. It's fairly thick, but you can add a splash of milk or cream if you prefer a thinner consistency. To turn it into champurrado (chocolate atole), stir in 6 oz. chopped semisweet chocolate with the vanilla.
This subtly sweet bread is a favorite at Day of the Dead celebrations. You can bake the dough as one large loaf, or as a few smaller loaves so you'll have some for you and some for offerings.
"This ombre pomegranate libation, made with smoky Mexican mezcal, gives a subtle nod to Day of the Dead celebrations. Much like tequila, mezcal is made from agave. But mezcal's smoky flavor comes from roasting agave hearts in an underground stone-lined fire pit for several days before fermenting." —Betty Soup
Day of the Dead Serving Dish Ideas
$50 for 16-piece set at Walmart
Serve condiments in a La Chamba Triple Salsa Dish.
This Colombian black clay vessel is heat safe, so it works well for hot dips and cool salsas. $28 at ancientcookware.com
String up a colorful Papel Picado Banner.
Each design on this 10-flag, 18-foot banner was homemade by artisan paper cutters in Mexico. $14.50 for large spring pattern at mexevents.com
Serve Mexican sodas in Santino Recycled Double Old-Fashioned Glasses.
The thick green-glass soda bottles you love live on in these pretty glasses made in Mexico from recycled Coca-Cola bottles. $51 for set of six at potterybarn.com
Decorate Sugar Skulls with royal icing.
$13 for skull mold or $9.50 for pre-made skull at mexicansugarskull.com
Sass up your table with a Día de los Muertos Dog made by first-gen Mexican American artist Iris Romero.
Choose from many hand-painted ceramic pieces in her Etsy store, CalaverasArt, or get your request in early for a custom work like this one. $50 for 5-inch dog figurine at etsy.com
Day of the Dead Symbolism
Many who celebrate Day of the Dead assemble altars in their homes or at gravesides to honor loved ones who've passed away. These altars typically include photos of those being honored and other important symbolic elements and ofrendas (offerings), such as:
Candles to light spirits' way back to the land of the living.
Bowls of Water to quench spirits' thirst after their journey home.
Papel Picado, brightly colored paper cut into intricate designs that flutter in the wind, to represent the fragility of life.
Favorite Foods of the people being honored.
Colorful Sugar Skulls to represent the souls' vitality even in death.
Marigolds, believed to attract spirits with their vivid color and scent.
Candy or Plastic Butterflies- to represent the monarchs that migrate to Mexico each fall, a symbol of loved ones' spirits returning.
Skeleton Dog Figurines to represent the animal guides some believe lead spirits back to the afterlife when Day of the Dead concludes.
Use Talavera Tiles as coasters or trivets.Each 4¼-inch tile is painted by Mexican potters in a traditional design. $27.50 for 15 tiles (patterns vary) at directfrommexico.com
Serve Hot Drinks in Cortado Cups. These adorable handmade stoneware cups are available with four different handle shapes and work for everything from espresso to Mexican Atole (recipe on p.106). $17 each at civilstoneware.com
Anchor your Table with a Papel Picado-Style Table Runner. his delicate 78-inch fabric runner, handmade in Mexico and available in several colors, mirrors the look of traditional papel picado ("pecked or pierced paper") banners. $25 at mesachicparties.com
Light the way with Turquoise Tealight Holders. These glass votives come in six mix-and-match, desert-inspired shapes. $12 each at jaysonhome.com
Float marigolds in a Tangerine Band Glass Bowl. Mexican artisans Javier Gutiérrez and Efrén Canteras craft each bowl from recycled glass. $60 at novica.com
Serve Pan de Muerto on a Talavera Appetizer Platter. This winged ceramic platter is also perfect for fresh fruit. $56 (patterns vary) at directfrommexico.com
Cast pretty shadows with a Mexican Carved Clay Luminaria Wood-fired to enhance its dark color and polished to a glasslike sheen, this barro negro (black mud) pottery is a Mexican work of art. $82 at directfrommexico.com
"For Day of the Dead, I made Pan de Muerto. My sister and I took it out to the cemetery, sat beside my dad's grave, and shared the bread and special memories of him. I split the recipe into two small rounds—one for us to share, and one to leave on the grave." — TONIBARNETT
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This article originally appeared in the October/November 2018 issue of Allrecipes Magazine.