9 Vibrant Ways to Celebrate Day of the Dead at Home This Year

Learn some of the history behind the traditions, and bring a little passion—and a lot of color—to your home.

The traditional Mexican holiday honoring the dead, Día de los Muertos, is finding new life north of the border. No wonder: Its vibrant decorations and seriously delicious foods combine for a celebration that's hard to resist. The iconic Day of the Dead motif comes from cane sugar candies shaped as skulls and adorned with colorful icing.

Día de los Muertos is celebrated on November 1 and 2 every year, and the day is all about hosting a vibrant remembrance for loved ones who have passed away. If you're looking for ways to celebrate at home, here are a few classic ways to commemorate Day of the Dead with family and friends.

skull pumpkin decorations
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Sugar Skull Pumpkins

Pati Jinich, cookbook author and host of the PBS television series Pati's Mexican Table, explains that traditionally, sugar skulls are a way to take a painful experience (like the passing of a loved one) and turn it into something sweet.

Sugar skull motifs are a festive way to dress up faux pumpkins for Dia de los Muertos. Paint them black or white, then add graphic designs. Use our free printable pumpkin stencils to create several sugar skull designs. Display the finished Day of the Dead pumpkins with bright, colorful tissue paper flowers on a mantel or sprinkle the pumpkins and blooms across a table. Try making a colorful carved sugar skull pumpkin.

Halloween party printable invitations
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Printable Invitations

The hallmarks of Dia de los Muertos are bright, exuberant colors paired with plenty of black, skeleton motifs, and lacy cutout designs. Traditional papel picado tissue paper banner designs (from $9, Etsy) inspired our printable invitations. Print our designs onto cardstock and cut out. Write the details on the back for a set of 4×6-inch cards. In the months leading up to the holiday, look for postage stamps in bright patterns and add them to black envelopes to tie the whole invitation together.

floral decor colored tissue paper
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Bold Decor

To create this bright floral look out of tissue paper, trace around a bowl to cut several large circles out of tissue paper. Use the same color paper to cut a few slightly smaller circles, and then a few more circles about half the size of the first. With scissors, scallop the edges of all the circles, then stack them by size with the smallest on top; staple the stack of circles in the center. Then, crinkle the layers around the staple to create a floral look. Scatter these around party tables or glue them together to form a festive wall hanging.

halloween party skull drinks
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DIY Drink Stirrers

Sugar skull drink stirrers and fresh fruit perfectly complement these spritz-ade cocktails in such flavors as raspberry and mango. With our easy how-to instructions, you can make these adorable self-drying clay stirrers in minutes. Add them to tall glasses—like those used for traditional tequila cocktails—or make an equally delicious nonalcoholic version. Yum!

halloween party skull drinks black lace votives
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Lace Votives

Candles are a staple of Day of the Dead celebrations, as they are thought to light the way for spirits trying to find their way home. Black lace dresses up glass votives and echoes mourning veils. These black lace votives are a beautiful way to dress up plain candles. Simply trim lace patterns with scissors, and use Mod Podge to attach to the outside of a glass votive. Allow to dry before using.

Halloween party dips
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Savory Spread

Historically, families make the favorite dishes of the deceased. This holiday menu features new takes on traditional recipes and ingredients. Start the meal with a savory display of three different spreads: pumpkin, sweet pea, and garlic. Top off your tray of goodies with homemade saltine crackers. These snacks are as pretty as they are yummy!

Enchilada Casserole, casserole, enchilada

Easy Main Course

Your family will love this cheesy enchilada casserole recipe. This enchilada twist uses two kinds of soft tortillas—white flour and purple corn—to play up the "white-and-black" color scheme of its two fillings. For a more traditional version, use all corn tortillas (white, yellow, or blue). For a colorful finish, top the baked casserole with spiralized beets and carrots.

Buy It: Tabletop Spiralizer Vegetable Cutter ($15, Bed Bath & Beyond)

Spicy Fruit Salad, salad, fruit

Colorful Side Dish

This layered salad is a yummy mashup of fruits and vegetables in bright colors that play to the holiday's palette. Sweet strawberries and mango contrast with crisp greens and jicama. Top it off with a sweet-meets-heat vinaigrette made with honey and adobo sauce.

Mini layer cakes
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Decorated Desserts

Indulgences are permitted (and encouraged) during this holiday. Embrace sweets with these mini desserts layering chocolate cake, cream cheese frosting, and neon-bright jelly beans. Serve the festive treats on black paper doilies or napkins to tie the color scheme to the treat table.

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