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Day of the Dead Theme Party Ideas

Posted by Rae Lynn on 10/11/2017 to Halloween
Let death be your guide for a Halloween event inspired by the Dia de los Muertos Mexican holiday. This colorful commemoration of honored spirits, aka the Day of the Dead, is a whimsical celebration for the new life of the dead, every year from October 31st through November 2nd.

La Catrina
In contrast to the evil spirits of Halloween, the Day of the Dead is a time to honor and welcome the visiting souls of loved ones, ancestors, folk heroes and even pets. We've compiled some ideas to combine the joyous nature and macabre imagery of this festive occasion for a party setting welcoming of all Halloween beliefs.

Our approach to channel the spirits for a Day of the Dead theme party is divided into 3 parts:
  • Embrace the attitude
  • Incorporate the culture
  • Highlight the attributes

EMBRACE THE ATTITUDE

To capture the essence of this unique holiday, it is important to appreciate the beliefs, understand the perspective, and embrace the attitude. Ironically, this refreshing view of death is thousands of years old.

Based upon the belief that death is a continuum of the cycle of life, dying is not an end, but a new beginning. The Day of the Dead is not only a remembrance, but also an eternal dialogue and connection between the world and afterlife. 

Instead of reverence and denial, one lives alongside death as a part of life and faces their fear with acknowledgement and acceptance. In fact, it is believed that mourning and sadness is insulting to the dead.

Skeletons & skulls of the Day of the Dead represent the transition of life and death and remind us that we will all die, but are not scary or morbid. Actually, it is more common to depict skeletons in humorous situations and to mock death with names like "skinny", "bony", and "baldy". 

From this perspective, the Day of the Dead is a colorful & jovial reunion of the whole family, living and dead, with graveyard celebrations and altars of commemoration full of life, happiness, food, and fun.

INCORPORATE THE CULTURE

Integrate the origins of the Day of the Dead by incorporating the rich and colorful culture of Mexico into your party decorations. Choose from a wide selection of Mexican Fiesta decor and features to create a distinctive background based on this holiday’s birthplace.

Look for these items and motifs in party decorations, invitations, food and drinks:
  • Serapes/Mexican blankets
  • Cactus
  • Sombreros
  • Maracas
  • Chili Peppers
  • Marionette Puppets
  • Pinatas
  • Mexican flags
  • Donkeys
  • Aztec Suns
  • Paper flowers
  • Margaritas
  • Mariachis
  • Geckos

HIGHLIGHT THE ATTRIBUTES

Traditionally, the Day of the Dead is celebrated in cemeteries at the gravesites of loved ones and in the home with altars or ofrendas, which are offerings to honor the deceased.

Feature the symbolism and imagery associated with the Day of the Dead altars and graveyard festivities for your party theme decorations. Here are some suggestions:
  • Color signifies the vitality of life: Fill your party setting with bright & vibrant colors, including orange, pink, purple, turquoise, lime, yellow and red.
  • An arch marks the entrance to world of the dead, typically made with flowers
  • Monarch butterflies carry the spirits returning to visit
  • Include items to represent each of the 4 elements: Earth, Wind, Fire, & Water
    • EARTH: Flowers & Food
      • Orange & yellow marigolds aka Cempasuchil, are used prominently to help guide the spirits with their bright color & strong scent
      • Make paper flower marigolds, here’s how
      • Or, quick and easy napkin flowers, here’s how
      • Other flower options include crimson cockscomb, calla lily, lavender orchid, baby’s breath, hoary stock, gladiolus and chrysanthemums
      • Scatter flower petals along the front walk to guide your visitors
      • Hang tulle flower pom-poms
      • Make and hang flower balls, here’s how
      • Offer pan de muerto aka Bread of the Dead featuring bones & a tear drop on top, recipe here
      • Place bowls with fruit; oranges, apples, nisperos (loquat), bananas, tejocotes (hawthorn) 
      • Arrange baskets of autumn harvest corn, pumpkins, & squashes
    • WIND
      • String Papel picado (perforated paper) banners
      • Hang paper lanterns and/or fans in varying colors, sizes & heights
    • FIRE
      • Use votive candles liberally to guide the spirits
      • Hang wine bottle candle holders
      • String strands of party lights
      • Set out religious saint candles
    • WATER
      • Provide water for the spirits after the long journey in a skull pitcher or cup
      • Print Day of the Dead water bottle labels
  • Display death, in a fun way
    • Create a festive graveyard scene for the party area or front walk
    • Make a mini tabletop graveyard on the bar
    • Flank the front door with tombstones and planters of marigolds
    • Make a grave with skeleton bones exposed
    • Make a coffin table top (here’s how) & set with a Day of the Dead graveyard picnic
    • Hang a skull wreath 
    • Set up a skull rack aka tzompantii
    • Decorate with calaveras—decorative & artistic impressions of skulls & skeletons in humorous settings and traditional activities
    • Arrange calacas—masks & figurines of joyous calaveras in festive clothing, flowers & foliage
    • Feature La Catrina—the iconic Day of the Dead calaveras depicting a woman skeleton in an extravagantly plumed hat
    • Hang skeletons and bones from the ceiling
    • Set out skeleton yard "pink" flamingos
    • Use a skeleton for the food buffet
    • Make and/or set out calaveras de azucar (sugar skulls) as gifts for the spirits—elaborately decorated skulls made of sugar or clay, then create some variations:
Flower Pots
Pumpkins
Glow Lanterns
Gourds
Garland
Pumpkin Candles
    Retablo Diorama
  • Acknowledge the religious aspect of the occasion with:
    • Crosses & crucifixes
    • Images of saints, Christ & the Virgin Mary
    • Retablo shadow box dioramas 
  • Additional items often provided for the visiting spirits include:
    • Copal—natural tree resin incense to find their way
    • Salt for purification
    • Xoloitzcuintli dog for guidance to the afterlife
    • Soap, hand towel and/or wash basin
    • Pillows & blankets for rest
  • Hang, mount, frame, & display photos & memorabilia of the dead
    • People, e.g. family, celebrities, & heroes
    • Animals, e.g. pets, bees, & endangered species
    • Groups, e.g. breast cancer, hurricane victims, & travel agents
    • Fads, places & things, e.g. disco, bookstores, & phone booths
  • Set up one or more Day of the Dead ofrendas or altars, here’s how
    • Make an altar as a focal point
    • Create an altar backdrop for the bar or serving table
    • Arrange multiple 3 level mini altars throughout the party, e.g. bathroom, bar, mantle
  • Optionally, segment the party area to correlate with death and the afterlife
    • Front entrance: Graveyard, butterflies & entrance to the world of the dead
    • Food service area: Earth & living with memorabilia, photos, sugar skulls, food & drink
    • Party area: Purgatory or Mictlan (Aztec underworld) with skeletons, skulls, incense & candles
    • Bar area: Heaven with saints, crosses, and religious symbols
  • Food service & hors d'oeuvres
  • Drink suggestions
    • Tamarita--margarita made with tamarinds
    • Atole--hot masa (corn flour) based drink with sugar, cinnamon & vanilla
    • Hibiscus tea--ruby red herbal tea aka agua de Jamaica
  • Make it a costume party
    • Provide some Day of the Dead background information with the invitation
    • Have guests dress as skeleton spirits of someone/thing dead they wish to remember
Do you have more ideas for hosting a Day of the Dead theme party? If so, please let us know about them, so we can include them here.

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