The belief behind this traditional Mexican fete is that Heaven opens up October 31st and allows the souls of children to reunite with their families for one day, November 1st. On November 2nd the souls of adults are allowed the same privilege. Fast becoming an “American” tradition, this party memorializing the departed by celebrating their lives is dead-easy to do at home.
Fast becoming an “American” tradition, this party memorializing the departed by celebrating their lives is dead-easy to do at home. The Dia de los Muertos is celebrated in central and southern Mexico on November 1st (All Souls’ Day) and 2nd (All Saints’ Day). Families spend lots of time, energy, and money preparing altars to the dead, making food, and playing music for elaborate parties held at their homes and at the local cemeteries. Graves are gussied up with red, orange and gold flowers, incense is burned, and upbeat music drives the fetes. This is not a maudlin event. The belief is that Heaven opens up October 31st and allows the souls of children to reunite with their families for one day, November 1st. On November 2nd the souls of adults are allowed the same privilege.
Here’s how to recreate the Day of the Dead at home…
- Choose the day you’d like to host the party. If you choose November 1st, this is the day to honor the souls of children, and offerings should be in miniature and suitable for a child, such as miniature tea cups filled with milk, chocolates, pop bottles (tops off) and toys. If you decide to host November 2nd the day for adults, miniature bottles of alcohol (tops off), cigarettes, and handmade tortillas or breads are appropriate altar gifts.But remember, no food may be eaten from the altar until Nov. 3rd—the spirits must have their fill first.
- Create an altar to honor your dead. Clear a mantle or upturn a large box and cover with fabric. Place offerings to the dead – flowers, sugar skulls, candles, little bars of soap (for the deceased to freshen up with), miniature liquors (to revive their souls), and pictures of deceased loved ones – on it. Be sure to include items that personalize each of the deceased. For example, my recently passed mother –in- law was a painter, so I will include miniature paint sets, purchased at a party supply store on my altar. After the party concludes, I’ll invite the kids to take them home in her memory.
- Decorate the entrance way of your home with paper marigolds. To make the marigolds, layer small squares of orange and red tissue paper (about 8 inches or less), fold them like an accordion, and affix with a pipe cleaner. This is a fun activity for children to complete either before the party or as they arrive. Marigolds are the traditional flower for Day of the Dead; their vibrant color and strong aromas call the dead home.
- Be sure to include plenty of sugar skulls in your décor. The best, easiest-to-follow recipe for sugar skulls is found here . If you don’t have (or want to buy) a sugar skull mold, take a skull votive candle holder from the Dollar Store and mold the sugar on its outside. But check out this sugar skull supply web site first for inspiration on decorating your sugar skull and creating your altar.
- For the skulls, ask guests for the names of their dead in advance and inscribe those names on the homemade skulls. Or, provide blank skulls and icing pens (found at the grocery store) and make this a party activity. Then, invite your guests to “eat their own” by ingesting the skulls with their loved ones name on it.
- Serve favorite foods of your loved ones. This will bring them back to the land of the living (and your party) in spirit, if not in actuality. Some typical Mexican foods include day of the dead bread, a highly decorated loaf, and candied pumpkin for dessert. Both of these dishes are easy to make and recipes can be found on the web.
- Music! Music should be upbeat. Mariachi music is bueno, but any fun compilation of tunes will work.
This year, November 1st falls on a Sunday, making this a good Halloween hangover cure party to host. If you like, make it a bring-a-dish affair and have your guests bring something that reflects the lifestyle and tastes of their family members they are remembering.
If you have Monday off, switch out your “children’s” altar of soda and chocolate at midnight, open the little rum drinks and smokes for the “adult” altar, and let the party roll through the next day.