New Orleans Day of the Dead celebrations
Credit: @smellcircus Instagram

Most cultures mourn the dead, but on Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead), Mexican families rejoice.

The festival can be traced back some 3,000 years to the Aztecs, who believed that shedding tears for the deceased would make his or her path to the next world more difficult. Instead, the Aztecs honored one's passing by celebrating his or her life and welcomed the return of their spirits once a year.

Today, Día de Muertos last from October 31 to November 2, in connection with the Catholic All Saint's Day and All Hollow's Day. During this time, Mexican families honor try to lure the spirits of their loved ones back with fun celebrations, centered around music, food, and booze.

Here are some tips to host your own successful Day of the Dead party:

  • Stock up on traditional Mexican foods. Go traditional with Pan de Muerto and tamales, or keep it light and modern with tortilla chips and salsa. Try our favorite food ideas here. 
  • Stock up on Mexican spirits, like tequila and mezcal, for margaritas or a Mexican-inspired cocktail. Serve Mexican beer, like Modelo, and whip up a pitcher of simplified horchata or Champurrado for dessert.
  • For decor, string banners of papel picado, colorful paper cut into elaborate designs, throughout your home. The Mexican folk art of paper-cutting is simple and fun to do with friends while setting up. The designs are typically cut from tissue paper and represent the fragility of life.
  • If guests will be attending with children, this site includes free downloadable worksheets and papercraft activities with instructions and templates to keep them entertained. Face painting is also a fun, simple way to get kids (and adults!) in the spirit. Check out our favorite costume ideas. 
  • Decorate your home with traditional, symbolic decor.
    • The bright orange petals of marigolds were left to guide the spirits towards the celebration you've prepared for them. Use fresh or fake marigolds to make wreaths (try this version using paper flowers) or place in pots around the room.
    • Dogs, which were believed to guide the ancestral spirits to their final resting place in the afterlife. You can incorporate these into mini ofrenda (offerings) which would make fun and interesting centerpieces.
    • Scatter candles on tables and windowsills. These were used as guiding lights to lead ancestral spirits back to the living.
  • Set up a DIY sugar skull station. The most iconic symbol of Día de Muertos, these edible accents, often used to decorate gravestones, would make a fun party favor or activity. We recommend completing a few to position as inspiration, and preparing the sugar molds ahead of time. Set them up on a table with an assortment of colorful icing and edible markers for guests to decorate their own.