How to host a celebratory Dia de los Muertos party

Dia de los Muertos (also called Dia de Muertos) is a unique and highly anticipated holiday among those who observe it. It’s a time for friends and family to come together and turn their mourning into a lively celebration of life and death, surrounded by sweet sugar skulls, sunny marigolds, and most importantly, the happy memories of people who’ve passed. 

Since losing loved ones is a universal experience—and because the vibrancy and message of Dia de los Muertos is so appealing and uplifting—Day of the Dead is a holiday that people across many cultures may be interested to take part in. For this reason, it’s important to keep your Dia de los Muertos celebration as respectful and authentic as possible. 

Whether you’re hosting Dia de los Muertos for the first time or want to make your annual party even more memorable, read on for our tips on the Mexican tradition and holiday cards. 

What is Day of the Dead and who celebrates it?

If you have any newcomers joining in on the Mexican tradition, it’s important that they understand the true meaning of Dia de los Muertos. Many people may recognize the notable decor that’s utilized during this holiday, but each element of Dia de los Muertos comes from a long, rich history and a high respect for those who have passed on. 

Dia de los Muertos is a Mexican holiday traditionally celebrated by members of the Catholic Church. During this two-day holiday, observers perform a number of activities to mourn and honor any loved ones who have passed away. The holiday also embraces the celebration of life and death together, and encourages spirits to visit the earthly world and enjoy the festivities of the Mexican holiday. 

 

Left: A green and black, papel picado-inspired card. Right: A person wearing sugar skull face paint plays the guitar at night.

Qué Hermosa” by Paperless Post.

 

When is Dia de los Muertos?

Dia de los Muertos is a two-day celebration that’s broken up into three parts:

 

Dia de los Angelitos: The first portion of the holiday is known as Dia de los Angelitos, or Day of the Little Angels. Starting at midnight on November 1st, this 24-hour period is dedicated to children who have died. Toys, candies, and sweet photos are brought to the altars of lost children to encourage a visit from their spirits. 

 

Dia de los Difuntos: When the clock strikes midnight on November 2nd, the celebration shifts to the Dia de los Difuntos, or Day of the Deceased Adults. This portion of the holiday incorporates more adult offerings at the altars of loved ones, like tequila, atole, and pan de muerto. Games, live music, and dancing are also encouraged to celebrate loved ones and bring out their spirits. 

 

Dia de los Muertos: Finally, the grand finale of Dia de los Muertos is celebrated the following day. This is when public festivities are held to honor all the spirits together. Those celebrating may participate in face painting, parades, and visiting the graves of loved ones. Many people also take time to clean up their loved ones’ grave site and leave gifts, flowers, and sugar skulls. 

 

Ideas for celebrating Dia de Los Muertos

One of the best parts of hosting a Dia de los Muertos party is that there are so many ways to celebrate. This holiday is truly an observance of how beautiful life can be, and those who participate will have plenty of opportunities to enjoy all that it has to offer.

Below are some thoughtful and creative Day of the Dead party ideas to help you enjoy the holiday with friends and family.

 

An invitation with moving neon sugar skulls and papel picado.

Sugar and Skulls” Flyer.

 

Activities

Dia de los Muertos is a holiday filled with many different events and activities. Whether you’re planning to celebrate the way you always have or want to put a new spin on an old tradition, here are some to include at your party:

 

Set up your ofrenda: Ofrendas—or altars with offerings—are perhaps the most important part of any Dia de los Muertos celebration. While ofrendas are often set up at the gravesite of the departed, most families in Mexico opt for an at-home ofrenda, as well. This area of the home can be adorned with photos of the deceased, flowers, candles, colorful tablecloths, and tissue paper cut into different shapes. Encourage guests to bring gifts for the ofrenda, like home-cooked foods, alcohol, cigars, books, or clothes that the deceased would like to be given. The basic idea here is to create a welcoming environment for your loved one’s spirit.

 

Face painting: Face painting is a classic tradition during Dia de los Muertos celebrations. The designs used for this holiday utilize both Catholic and European influences, combined with the artwork of Indigenous Mexican tribes—particularly the Aztecs. Face painting is enjoyed by adults and children alike, and it’s a great way to get yourself into the spirit of the holiday. Common symbols used in Dia de los Muertos face painting include skulls and marigolds. The designs are often wildly detailed and extremely beautiful.

 

Sugar skulls

Skull iconography in Mexican culture dates back to prehistoric times, when Indigenous Mexican people offered them to Mictlantecuhtli, the god of the underworld. It was in the 17th century that Italian missionaries first brought the art of sugar sculpting to Mexico, and the native people quickly began adapting the process for their own practices and celebrations—including what we now call sugar skulls, or calaveras

Today, sugar skulls are mainly created from hardened sugar or chocolate and used as an altar offering during Dia de los Muertos. For a fun party activity, set up a DIY sugar skull station where people can craft their own unique design. The recipe for creating sugar skulls is fairly simple: combine sugar, meringue powder, and water. Add your mixture to your skull shaped molds and allow them to air dry for at least eight hours. After that, your skulls are ready for decorating! Colorful royal icing and metallic foil are some of the most common things used to decorate sugar skulls. 

 

Set the mood with music: Music is not only a crucial part of Dia de los Muertos, but it’s also a major influence on Mexican culture as a whole. During Day of the Dead parades, live music is traditionally played in the streets with dancing and costumes to accompany the celebration. If you don’t have a live band available (or even a few friends who play instruments), you can also put together your own Day of the Dead playlist. Here are some fan-favorite songs you’ll want to include:

— “Altar de Muertos” by Gabriela Ortiz

— “Xochipilli” by Carlos Chavez 

— “Son de la Bruja” by Jose Luis Hurtado

— “Calaverita” by La Santa Cecilia

— “No Es Serio Este Cementerio” by Mecano

 

Decor

 

Left: A Mexican gravesite decorated with orange flowers, fruit, and ofrendas. Right: A card with colorful marigold flowers around the border.

De Colores Fiesta” by Paperless Post. Photo credit: Image by Anna Fishkin.

 

Cheerful, colorful decor is another big part of hosting an authentic Dia de los Muertos party, so you’ll want to make sure you have all the staples on hand:

 

Marigolds: Marigolds are the symbolic flower of the Dia de los Muertos holiday. The bright orange petals were traditionally left as a guide to help spirits find their way towards the celebration you’ve prepared for them. Don’t limit your marigolds to floral arrangements—you can place real and faux versions anywhere you please and really make a statement. 

 

Dogs: Although not necessarily a “decor” item, canines are traditionally considered helpful guides for ancestral spirits navigating the afterlife. (In particular, Xoloitzcuintli—also known as Xolos or Mexican hairless dogs—are considered liaisons with the Kingdom of the Dead.) Encourage guests to bring their furry friends along to your Dia de los Muertos party if you want a fully authentic experience. Wall hangings, statues, and photographs of dogs can also work if need be.

 

— Papel picado: Papel picado is an easy, yet beautiful decoration that can be incorporated into your Dia de los Muertos party. All you’ll need is a stack of colorful tissue paper and some scissors. From there, you’ll fold the paper in half several times and cut out small, intricate shapes to create a gorgeous design. These lightweight decorations can easily be strung up on your walls using string or yarn. 

 

Sugar skull decorations: Whether you’re making them yourself or purchasing them fully adorned, sugar skulls are another must-have at any Dia de los Muertos celebration. These can be placed at the ofrenda and throughout the house, and the more colors and patterns you incorporate, the better!

 

La Catrina: One of the most recognizable elements of Dia de los Muertos decor is the prevalence of La Catrina. La Catrina is the beautiful, stylish skeleton image that many people see—and even dress up as—during this time of year. This design was first created in the 1900s by artist Jose Guadalupe. Guadalupe used his art to make a satirical statement about European aristocracy, and the ways classism affects the people of Mexico. Today, La Catrina is used in Dia de los Muertos art as a reminder to be yourself and celebrate your roots. La Catrina can be incorporated into your Dia de los Muertos party through small figurines, face paint, or costumes. 

 

Food and drinks

It wouldn’t be a Dia de los Muertos party without some classic holiday dishes to snack on. To keep your guests satisfied and fueled for a day of celebrating, consider whipping up some of these traditional Dia de los Muertos eats:

Left: An online invitation featuring floral accents in bright colors. Right: A close-up shot of Champurrado in a mug.

Amarillo” by Paperless Post. Photo credit: Sweet Life.

 

Champurrado

Similar to Atole, champurrado is a delicious chocolate drink that’s served up during the Dia de los Muertos holiday. All you’ll need for this recipe is:

— 1 ½ cups of water

— 1 pod star anise

— 1 cinnamon stick

— ¾ cup of pinole

— 1 whole clove

— 4 ¼ cups of milk

— 2 pieces of Mexican chocolate

— Brown sugar to taste

Heat up your cinnamon, clove, and star anise in a pot of boiling water. Then combine the remaining ingredients in a saucepan until melted. Pour your cinnamon water over the top and your champurrado is ready to drink!

 

Pan de muertos

This soft, sweet pastry is another staple of Dia de los Muertos cooking (hence the name). Many people offer this dish up to the ofrenda, but your guests will certainly enjoy a piece of this beloved dulce as well. 

For this recipe you’ll need the following ingredients:

— ¼ cup of margarine

— ¼ cup of milk

— ¼ cup warm water

— 3 cups all-purpose flour

— 1 ¼ teaspoons active dry yeast

— ½ teaspoon salt

— 2 teaspoons anise seed

— ¼ cup white sugar

— 2 eggs, beaten

— 1 tablespoon and 2 teaspoons orange zest

— ¼ cup white sugar

— ¼ cup orange juice

 

Tamales

Tamales make a delicious party snack for a few reasons: they’re easy to eat, can be prepared ahead of time, and contain a variety of different fillings. Popular options for tamale fillings include:

— Shredded chicken

— Chorizo

— Beef

— Cheese

— Beans

— Sauteed veggies, particularly onion, chiles, and tomato

 

Salsa and chips

Want to keep the cooking to a minimum? You can’t go wrong with salsa and chips for your Day of the Dead party. To make things a little more fun, set up a salsa station with various chips, toppings, salsas, and other dips. Having mild, medium, and spicy options is a nice touch that guests will appreciate. And of course, you can’t forget the guac.

 

What should you wear on Dia de los Muertos?

Even though Dia de Muertos is celebrated around the same time as Halloween, it’s important to remember that they’re two different holidays with two very different purposes. So if a Dia de Muertos invitation calls for guests to come in costume, you probably shouldn’t show up dressed like Britney Spears or a pumpkin.

Instead, dress colorfully and celebratorily. For women, long, flowing dresses with ruffles and floral details in bright, saturated colors like yellow, orange, red, pink, and purple are a beloved fashion choice. Look for traditional puebla embroidered dresses or campesina-style dresses with cinched waists and exposed shoulders. Accessorize with chunky jewelry, a shawl, and a flower crown or wide-brimmed hat—just like La Catrina would. 

Men should dress as dapperly as possible in a tuxedo or suit with suspenders and gloves, if possible, and accessorize with a cane and hat.

While many choose to paint their faces to look like sugar skulls, some instead paint the names of deceased loved ones on their foreheads. After the first day, it’s more typical for men to use only black and white face paint.

 

How to word invitations for a Dia de los Muertos celebration

 

An invitation with an illustration of marigolds in a vase, birds, and sugar skulls.

Vase of Marigolds” by Paperless Post.

 

Lest we forget, one of the most important parts of planning any great party is having the right invitations. Before you host your Dia de los Muertos celebration, you’ll want to make sure you send out authentic, festive invitations to match. This will ensure your guests are prepared for the festivities to come—especially if you’re enacting a strict Dia de los Muertos dress code. 

Below are some examples of Dia de los Muertos invitation wording:

 

Potluck invitation

To invite friends and family to share in the celebrations (and contribute their delicious recipes), try this invitation wording:

Dia de los Muertos

Bring your favorite sweet treat to Diego’s celebration of friends

In honor of Dia de los Muertos

November 1st at 2 PM

44 Avenida Del Toro

Guadalajara

 

Kids’ party

Children make Dia de Los Muertos a joyful event of remembrance and celebration. Try this invitation wording for a kids party:

Please join Ofelia Vidal

After school to celebrate

Dia de los Muertos

With sugar and skulls 

October 31st at 4 PM

44 Avenida Del Toro

Guadalajara

*Costumes encouraged*

Family and friends

Dia de los Muertos is all about celebrating with your loved ones. Let them know they’re invited to your party with this wording:

Acompañanos a celebrar

Dia de los Muertos

Con familia y amigos

Lunes de Noviembre 

Nuestro hogar

 

Una noche de fiesta

Dia de los Muertos is a party, after all!

 

Viva el Dia de los Muertos

Saturday November 2nd

7:00 PM

Casa de Rodriguez 

3123 Alvarado St.

San Francisco, CA 94114

 

Planning your Dia de los Muertos Party with Paperless Post

When planning your Dia de los Muertos celebration, it’s important that guests receive their invitations in a timely manner. Relying on traditional postage to deliver invitations could take days or even weeks. Thankfully, Paperless Post is here to simplify things.

With Paperless Post, you can choose from dozens of gorgeous invitations and flyers for your Dia de los Muertos party. Not only will these creative and memorable invitations be sure to leave an impression, but they can also be sent entirely online—no stamps or envelopes needed.

Planning a big event? Don’t stress. Paperless Post includes online RSVP tracking to keep your guest list in check—plus, you can message guests directly from the site. Plan your next Dia de los Muertos party today with a little help from Paperless Post!

 

 

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