In Mexican, Latinx and Hispanic communities across the world, Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is a holiday and festival where families honor their deceased loved ones with altars featuring their photographs, beloved possessions and favorite foods. Taking place from Oct. 31 - Nov. 2, the holiday coincides with All Saints Day and All Souls Day in the Catholic calendar. According to tradition, during the holiday the veil thins between the lands of the living and the dead and the souls of the departed come back to visit their families.
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With Día de los Muertos around the corner, and to honor Latinx Heritage Month (Sept. 15 - Oct. 15), enjoy this list of beautiful Día de los Muertos-inspired decorations. Featuring remarkable craftsmanship and an eye for detail, these handmade decorations celebrate family both here and deceased, and are a window to the artistic soul of a significant cultural presence in the U.S., Mexico, Latin America and abroad.
1. Large Mexican Sugar Skull (Made of Clay) by GuelaguetzaDesigns
These gorgeous Mexican sugar skulls by GuelaquetzaDesigns on Etsy are technically made of clay – not sugar – but nevertheless are authentic-looking pieces of art and would be wonderful additions to your Day of the Dead decor. Each skull is handmade in Guerrero, Mexico and hand-painted in various colors and shapes inspired by Mexican flora and fauna. You get to choose which primary color scheme or color combination you want. The skulls measure 4 1/2 inches tall, 5 inches wide and 6 inches deep.
In predominantly Mexican culture, sugar skulls, or calaveras/calaveras de azúcar, are a colorful and beautiful way to honor deceased loved ones during the Day of the Dead. Traditionally made of sugar (though not intended for consumption) and hand-painted with various shades of icing, they are typically placed on home ofrendas, or altars to the deceased, or at ofrendas set up at the family members' gravesites. It is often common to write or inscribe the deceased person's name on the sugar skull's forehead, as well. Larger skulls represent departed adults, while smaller skulls honor departed children.
These brightly-colored papel picado ("pecked paper") banners by AyMujer on Etsy are the perfect finishing touch to a Day of the Dead altar. Handmade using delicate tissue paper and string, each banner consists of eight squares alternating four intricate designs. The banners themselves measure 4 feet long while each individual square measures 6 inches tall and 5 inches wide. The product comes in a set of two banners.
While papel picado is often strung up over a tabletop altar, it can also be strung across a fireplace mantel, and larger banners can even be used as party streamers. In fact, papel picado isn't just used during the Day of the Dead, but is a very popular decoration at a number of holidays and occasions – but in this case, these are made specially for Día de los Muertos.
The history of Mexican bunting, or festive decorations made of fabric or paper, dates back to pre-Hispanic Mexico when the Aztecs used paper made from the bark of fig and mulberry trees to adorn their homes, streets and temples. Today, the tradition has evolved into papel picado in Mexico and Latin American countries.
3. Marigold Garlands From Mexico for Day of the Dead by FriduchaYMas
These long and fluffy marigold garlands for Day of the Dead from FriduchaYMas on Etsy are handmade in Chapala, Michoacán, Mexico. Made of hand-tied, shredded plastic, each garland is 5 feet long, reusable and available in various shades of orange. The garlands are sold individually or in sets of three, six, 10 or 20.
Marigolds, also known as cempasuchil or flor de muerto ("flower of the dead") are one of the most recognizable flowers associated with the Day of the Dead. They are believed to lure the souls of the dead back to the land of the living with their bright colors and aromatic scent. The flower itself is placed on or around graves during the holiday, while marigold garlands (real or faux) are often carefully placed on or at the base of altars to the deceased. They can also be hung from the wall or used as traditional party streamers.
4. Day of the Dead Aromatic Candles by TheBroomClosetShoppe
These Day of the Dead-inspired aromatic candles by TheBroomClosetShoppe smell amazing. Each is delicately crafted from soy wax and topped with carefully selected aromas, herbs, flowers and a crystal associated with the intention of each candle. Some of the ingredients include rose, sugar, sage, sandalwood, dried rose and marigold petals, and rosemary. All candles come with a tumbled bloodstone. The candles are available in 2-ounce, 4-ounce or 8-ounce tins (a 9.4-ounce glass vessel option is currently unavailable).
The seller warns that candle wicks should not be lit without first removing the dry toppings from the candle, for safety reasons. Additionally, some of the toppings may experience slight discoloration or "frosting" on top due to natural oils, but this is perfectly normal and won't detract from the scent.
Candles are a significant component of traditional Day of the Dead altars because they are the light that helps guide spirits back to their families and homes. In some indigenous traditions, each candle also represents a departed loved one, so it's not uncommon for a family altar to have multiple candles.
5. Sugar Skull Decorating Kit by mlueracollections
If you'd like to try your hand at decorating your own sugar skull, this decorating kit by mlueracollections on Etsy is for you. Each kit comes with not one, but two skulls made from actual sugar and meringue powder – but remember, they aren't meant to be consumed. The kit also provides sequins, feathers, foil squares and tubes of icing in various colors. This would be a fun and even educational activity to share with children and a great way to participate in the Day of the Dead. They just might be the most appetizing-looking pieces of art you're not meant to eat!
- 2 large sugar skulls
- 4 tubes of bright royal icing: pink, blue, green and gold
- Foil squares in assorted colors
- Sequins in assorted colors
- Feathers in assorted colors
6. Day of the Dead Dog Sculpture by MyCajitaCo
El Día de los Muertos is a time to commemorate our deceased loved ones, and that includes pets! If you've had a dog who's passed away, this cute, sugar skull-inspired dog sculpture from MyCajitaCo is an endearing way to remember your pet. Artisan-crafted and beautifully hand-painted in the style and tradition of the creators' family and their homeland of Guerrero, Mexico, each sculpture is 5 inches long, 4 inches wide and stands 4 inches tall. There are two color scheme options: black and white and multicolor, which includes orange, black (possibly to evoke Halloween), splashes of white, turquoise and magenta.
In Mexican tradition and folklore, dogs were believed to guide ancestral spirits to their final resting place in the afterlife. If you have a deceased dog, it would be very fitting to give your beloved pet their own altar, and this dog-shaped calavera could represent them.
7. Day of the Dead-Themed Hand-Painted Talavera Mexican Tile by ManzanoTiles
These Mexican talavera tiles by ManzanoTiles on Etsy are a humorous and life-affirming way to decorate for the Day of the Dead. Available in different scenes depicting people in everyday activities, as well as a special Frida Kahlo-themed collection, each tile is made of talavera ceramic, hand-painted (by the sellers' parents, no less) in Guanajuato, Mexico and measures 4 inches square and ½-inch thick. Depending on which tiles you choose, you might get skeletons playing poker, skeletons checking their phones on the toilet, beautiful skeletons taking undead selfies, or more. The creativity here is top-notch, for sure.
You can really see and feel the vivacious energy in all of these creations. Yes, Día de los Muertos is themed around death, but it's also about celebrating life and the lives of those who have gone before us, and by doing so, keeping a part of them alive.
- History.com: Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos)
- PBS.org: Beyond Sugar Skulls: The History and Culture of Dia de los Muertos
- SmithsonianMag.com: The Meaning Behind Six Objects on Dia de los Muertos Altars
- MissouriState.edu: Art History Exhibition: Papel Picado Banners
- GoodHousekeeping.com: The Most Common Day of the Dead Flowers and Their Meaning
- InsideMexico.com: The Day of the Dead Ofrenda
- NPR.org: Day of the Dead, Decoded: A Joyful Celebration of Life and Food