El Día de los Muertos (or "Day of the Dead") is a holiday primarily celebrated in Mexico (but quite popular in parts of the U.S. as well) that honors loved ones who have passed away with special food, drink, costumes, parades, and other festivities. The traditional celebration starts on October 31st and goes through November 2nd, with all sorts of traditions covering the three-day period. Even if you can't participate in the major celebrations, you can have an abbreviated version of your own by throwing a Day of the Dead party.
One of the most iconic Día de los Muertos images is that of the calavera, a decorative depiction of a human skull. Calaveras are very common in the holiday's decor and food, including the much-loved calaveras de azucar ("sugar skulls"). In the party food arena, you can make actual sugar skulls like these from Tablespoon:
or a fun variation using the calavera image with other foods, such as these sugar cookies featured on Woman's Day:
or these sugar skull caramel apples from The Crafty Chica:
You can also incorporate the image into decor with great DIY ideas like this sugar skull centerpiece from The Crafty Chica:
or the calaveras below from Moms & Munchkins using papier-mâché skulls (which they suggest buying at a craft store-- if you want to make your own papier-mâché skulls, check out this video tutorial from Unhinged Productions):
Marigolds are also an important part of the Dia de los Muertos tradition (based on the belief that the flowers' bright color and appealing scent will guide the souls of the departed to special altars constructed in their honor to join in the celebrations). If you want to include marigolds in your party decor but don't want to mess with live flowers (or want some that you can re-use from year to year), try out this DIY video from Happy Thought on how to make paper marigolds like these:
Dressing up in costumes is also a big part of Dia de los Muertos celebrations. It's important to remember that this holiday is not the same as Halloween-- the costumes are not meant to be scary, but rather a joyful-spooky-artistic-fun mix:
Part of the fun is doing face paint to make your face resemble a calavera, which can be as simple or an intricate as you like (for some guidance, check out this step-by-step written tutorial from Instructables and / or this video tutorial from Hannah Purcell for a design like the one below):
As if the costumes and makeup weren't colorful enough, another classic Día de los Muertos component is papel picado ("perforated paper"), collections of bright paper cut out in decorative designs (see the top of the picture below). You can buy them at places like Amazon or can make your own (see a video tutorial from Amy Robinson here.)
Looking to have some traditional food and drink at your Dia de los Muertos party? See if you can get your hands on some pulque (a fermented drink made from agave) or hot chocolate (definitely the easier option to acquire if you're in the U.S.) For food, there are several classic options, including pan de muerto ("bread of the dead") like the one from All Recipes here and calabaza en dulce ("candied pumpkin") like the Wide Open Eats recipe here.
Throwing a party for El Día de los Muertos is a fun way to incorporate some color, lightheartedness, and time with loved ones into your holiday season. If you can possibly throw or attend one this year, make sure you don't miss out!