Dia de los Muertos — Spanish for “Day of the Dead” — is an annual festival that originated in Mexico. Now, however, it’s seeing a rise in popularity around the world, including among those not of Mexican heritage.
It might seem a little daunting at first, but Dia de los Muertos is a joyous occasion. Take the fun of Halloween and add a more poignant note, as families and friends come together to honor loved ones who have died. Each celebration is full of flowers, music, and feasting — and, of course, those ubiquitous sugar skulls.
Celebrating Dia de Los Muertos
Anyone can celebrate Dia de Los Muertos, which actually spans multiple days, from Oct. 31 to Nov. 2. Is your family looking to celebrate this year? It can be great fun — and a gentle way to teach children the importance of remembering those who came before them. Or perhaps your family, like many others, simply has a mild Coco obsession!
No matter your reason for celebrating, here are some fun and easy ideas for an unforgettable Dia de Los Muertos fiesta.
The unofficial mascot of Dia de los Muertos, these brightly colored creations perfectly capture the solemn but festive tone of the occasion. Sugar skulls are easy to make and don’t require any cooking. All you need are sugar, meringue powder, water, and powdered sugar and mold to form the skull shape. Let the skulls set and then decorate to your heart’s desire.
If you have a nose for carbs, you’ll feel right at home during Dia de los Muertos. Baked goods abound throughout the festival, and little hands can easily help bring them to life. This is an opportunity not only to spend time together but sharpen kitchen skills (including measurements) and learn more about the culture surrounding the holiday.
Some possibilities include:
- Pan de muerto (“bread of the dead”). The traditional cross-shaped icing across the top of these sweetened breads might remind you of the hot cross buns many Christians associate with Easter. There are several variations, but most are flavored with orange and anise.
- Day of the dead cake. The centerpiece of many a Dia de los Muertos feast, it’s typically decorated with skulls, but the sky’s the limit.
- Candied pumpkin. This treat is also known as calabaza en tacha. Kids may raise an eyebrow at the name, but they’ll warm up once they discover it’s really just a vehicle for caramel.
- Tamales: This Mexican staple knows no season, but it’s a mainstay of Dia de los Muertos. A form of corn meal called masa harina and other additions such as chicken or beef are baked in corn husks.
- Cookies. Kids will have a blast decorating skull-shaped sugar cookies with their favorite color of icing.
Assemble your ofrenda
An ofrenda is a ceremonial altar that holds a special place in Dia de los Muertos celebrations. Family and friends gather at the ofrenda to offer gifts to the departed and welcome them into the home. This provides a great opportunity to teach kids about family and faith. Kids can let their creative sides run wild when building their ofrenda. Make it a group activity with each family member adding their own unique touch. Some popular components include:
- Marigolds. These orange-and-gold “flowers of the dead” are everywhere during Dia de los Muertos celebrations. You can always purchase artificial marigolds if fresh ones aren’t available.
- Papel picado. Decorative paper banners with holiday imagery. Buy them online or make your own.
- Candles. Help set the mood with candles of all shapes and sizes. (Parents will want to supervise this one.) Dia de los Muertos candles are available, but any candle will do.
- Photos and personal items. Relive treasured memories with pictures, heirlooms, or anything else that comes to mind.
Day of the dead masks
Purchase Dia de los Muertos-themed face coverings or make your own. You can also buy blank Halloween-style masks and fix them up for the big celebration.
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