How Lilliana Vazquez Celebrates Dia de los Muertos

The television host shares the meaningful ways she celebrates the holiday.

TV personality and host at E! News, Lilliana Vazquez, has been celebrating Día de los Muertos all her life. She grew up setting up an altar, cooking traditional dishes, and observing the day with her family. And now, she's looking forward to sharing the traditions with her son Santi, who was born this summer.

Día de los Muertos—also known as Day of the Dead—is a traditional Mexican holiday celebrated in early November, usually right after Halloween. The purpose of the holiday is to remember friends and family members who have passed away, and it's usually celebrated with bright flowers, colorful decorations, traditional foods, and decorated altars.

Vazquez, who is part Puerto Rican and part Mexican, is sharing all about how she observes the holiday and why it's important to her to pass the traditions on.

Lilliana Vazquez
Courtesy of Lilliana Vazquez

How She's Celebrating This Year

"One of the most beautiful things about my culture is the music, colors, and food, and there is no bigger or better celebration that brings it all together than Dia de los Muertos," Vazquez says. These are a few of her favorite ways to celebrate the holiday, including the new traditions she can't wait to start with her son.

Setting Up an Altar

Building and decorating an altar is one of the most traditional ways to celebrate the holiday. Typically, family members decorate an altar with photos of a loved one who has passed on, along with flowers, candles, food, and the loved one's favorite items. "Before my Welita passed away, our family altar was always at her home," she says. "It was a central place the whole family could gather to honor our loved ones and I have beautiful memories of decorating the family ofrenda with my abuelita."

Vazquez says that after her grandmother passed away, the most important thing to her was that her grandmother's tradition of building an ofrenda lived on. "Both my mom and I build mini altars at home," Vazquez says. "It's a special way of honoring her along with a tradition that's an important part of our family history."

"For me, the altar is the part that's the most fun—I love reliving so many beautiful memories," she says. "Going through memory boxes, and looking through things I've saved to add to the altar. In my opinion, it's not just having an altar in your home that's important, it's the setting up and all the work that it takes to get there that's the most special."

Celebrating with Food

Vazquez told us she believes food is at the center of every holiday, so gathering with loved ones to make and eat traditional recipes is an important part of the celebration for her. "Getting the entire family together to make easy and delicious recipes is a great way to build new traditions and lasting memories," she says. One of her favorites to share with her family is McCormick's Creamy Mexican Hot Chocolate.

Passing Traditions On

This year, ​​Vazquez is adding something new to her celebrations—passing on her favorite customs to the next generation. "It's really important for me to pass along these time-honored traditions to my son, Santi because he is ¼ Mexican, ¼ Puerto Rican, and ½ American," she says. "And he's growing up in California and New York—very American places."

Vazquez says she wants to do her best to create fun memories and sensory experiences centered around her culture so he'll remember them as he grows up. "Growing up, I never outwardly celebrated my culture with friends and in school, but for him, I want it to be the opposite. I want him to be the conduit for that," she says. "I want to instill these traditions in him, so it's fun and something he wants and is proud to share with his friends. I want him to always honor that and be proud of his background."

Lilliana's Suggestions for Celebrating (Without Appropriating)

This holiday celebrates many aspects of Mexican culture and it's important to observe the holiday respectfully.

"It is so important to me that people experience this holiday in an authentic way," Vazquez says. "I'm hoping that sharing my traditions and how I celebrate will help provide an authentic look to everyone so they see all the beauty in it—not just the commercial aspects."

These are her best tips for celebrating while being careful not to appropriate the culture.

Make an Altar

This is one of the most important aspects of the holiday, and Vazquez suggests carefully selecting meaningful items to remember your loved one by. "For me, the flowers are very important," she says. "You can buy fresh ones, or you can make beautiful paper ones." Anything that brings fond memories of your loved one is totally appropriate.

Curate a Playlist

Vazquez told us she makes a new playlist each year that she can put on while decorating, cooking, or prepping. "Every year it's a little different but I love it," she says. Don't stress too much about what goes on your playlist, just add songs that make you happy or bring back specific memories with your loved ones or family members.

Display Alebrijes

The TV host collects alebrijes, which are brightly colored traditional Mexican folk art statues. She buys a new one each year and collects them whenever she travels, and it's one of the ways she suggests celebrating. You can collect traditional alebrijes, or any other kind of trinkets that help you feel close to your family.

"It's almost like how during Christmas you bring out all the ornaments that you have collected throughout the years," she says. "Día de los Muertos is like that–think of the altar like you think of your Christmas tree and all the different ornaments you have collected."

If you've never created one before, now is the perfect time to start collecting! Start with a few items and add to them each year.

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