The Day of the Dead, called Día de Muertos or Día de los Muertos in Spanish, is a beautiful and deeply personal celebration. Occupying a very different spiritual corner than goofy-macabre Halloween does, the traditional Mexican holiday (on the same date of October 31st) recalls the lives of loved ones lost.
Mexicans visit graveyards, throw parades and processions, and festoon their homes with marigolds and terciopelo, a crushed-velvet like flower. They might decorate with papel picado, the traditional ornamental cut paper. Often they prepare special foods, such as mole negro, a labor-intensive black sauce often reserved for special occasions.
Unlike Halloween, the Day of the Dead employs very little by the way of the macabre, but if you visit a friend’s home, you might see home altars decorated with little sugar skulls and sweets in the image of the departed’s favorite foods. (Mexican bakeries might sell tiny sweets, like little sugar tacos, for example.)
Importantly, it’s a day when the living consider themselves closer to those who have gone before. People paint their faces in remembrance of La Catrina, the iconic female skeleton of Mexico. Día de Muertos even makes a number of cameos in the U.S.A. nowadays, right down to Disney movies and “Day of the Dead” Barbies. Here are a few thoughts for how to celebrate at home this year.
1. Create a Home Altar
If you make a home altar, consider sugary treats (perhaps these cake pops?), sugar skulls, and maybe a beautiful table runner. Look for papel picado, cut paper, at 99-cent stores and Mexican specialty shops, and string it up around your altar. Don’t forget to place photographs of loved ones gone by in places of honor.
2. Serve Pan de Muerto and Hot Chocolate
A typical aroma in the air in Mexican neighborhoods is that of warm baked goods spiked with citrus. It’s often emanating from pan de muerto, “bread of the dead,” an orange-flavored pastry. Depending on where you are in Mexico, you might tuck into atole, a masa drink often served alongside tamales. And if you haven’t yet tried Mexican hot chocolate, which tends to be redolent of cinnamon, let today be the day you give it a whirl. (We riffed on the classic in this sous-vide Mexican chocolate ice cream.)
Calaveras, skulls, are ubiquitous on October 31. Look for the traditional La Catrina face makeup, sculptures hoisted by folks in parades, sugar skulls, and tableware items. People have been loving our tumblers, placemats, mugs, candy bowls and platters, and all of our Day of the Dead-inspired tableware items.
Since both sweets and skulls are a big part of this tradition, consider skull sugar cookies! You can make your own with these excellent stamps or click to order them. And have you seen our tiered Day of the Day Cake, layered with chocolate cake, chocolate cream cheese frosting, and vanilla buttercream? It’s just as delicious and delicate as it looks.
Día de Muertos boasts many charms. Chief among them is the fact that this is a wonderfully colorful holiday. Bright colors are celebrated. Cover your porch with flowers and papel picado; serve skull cookies or cake; have your appetizer on plates festooned with skulls and flowers. This is an iconic holiday for a reason, and a vibrant tribute to life and death alike.