Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is more a celebration of life than a mourning of death. As such, a Day of the Dead party is a happy celebration characterized by bold colors, delicious food and candy, and plenty of decorated skulls and skeletons. Decorate for a Day of the Dead party with a mix of simple DIY projects and store-bought decor for a colorful celebration on a budget.
Front Door Wreath DIY Decoration
Welcome guests to your Dia de los Muertos party with a fabulous themed wreath. This one is simple to make and takes only a few easy steps, yet has a big visual impact.
- Wreath form
- Black feather boa
- 1 (5" - 10") plastic skull
- 3 bunches of faux flowers; colorful roses or orange carnations (which look like marigolds) are good picks
- Colorful permanent markers or colorful paints
- Hot glue and glue gun or super glue
- Twist ties can also be used to keep the feather boa on the wreath form (optional, as needed)
- Begin by wrapping the black feather boa around the wreath form to cover the wire. Affix the boa to the wire when you begin with a few drops of hot glue. Keep gluing periodically to affix the boa along different secure points as you wrap around the circle of the wreath form.
- Use paint of colorful permanent markers to decorate the plastic skull in traditional Day of the Dead tattoo patterns.
- Separate the faux flower heads from the faux stems on the first bunch of flowers, and glue individual blooms along the top of the plastic skull to create a floral head wreath.
- Tuck the remaining two bunches of faux flowers into the wreath in 11 o'clock and 4 o'clock positions to create asymmetrical pops of vibrant color. Most faux florals have wire stems, so you can tuck and wrap them around the wire wreath base to keep them in place without additional glue.
- Just above the 4 o'clock location of the blooms on the wreath, hot glue gun the plastic skull onto the wreath frame. It should appear as if it's resting on the flowers already affixed to the wreath.
Hang your Day of the Dead door wreath and enjoy. If you feel like making more than one, you can add more wreaths in other areas; on garage doors and near mailboxes are just a couple of great places. They can even hang from shephard's hooks placed near the porch.
Super Simple Balloon DIY
If tackling the wreath project seems a bit too outside your crafting comfort zone, this DIY is a must-try and only consists of two easy steps.
- White latex balloons
- Black permanent marker
- Colorful balloon string or ribbons
- Visit your local grocery or party store to pick up 5-10 inflated white latex balloons. Request colorful strings attached (red, blue, pink, yellow and orange are good picks for Day of the Dead)
- Take a black permanent marker and draw on a Dia de los Muertos-inspired skull face design. Begin by drawing the two black large eyes, and an upside down heart for the nose. The easiest mouth to draw is a simple horizontal line, with small vertical lines crossing it to look like a stitched mouth. The designs are the finishing touch - feel free to get creative.
Group the decorated balloons together in threes or fours and place outside the front door tied to a pot or railing, and inside near the party area. Use skulls to help weigh them down or attach to curtain rods and allow them to hand in front of the windows.
Outdoor Glow in the Dark Skull DIY
Create unique outdoor Dia de los Muertos decor with just a sharpie, plastic skulls, and a can of glow in the dark spray paint. This DIY is so easy to create, and can be used to decorate in more than one way. For party hosts who are DIY'd out, consider purchasing a few Day of the Dead themed string lights to hang up around the backyard fence and swag from windows.
- 10 or more plastic skulls
- Glow in the dark spray paint
- Permanent marker in black
- Do a little prep work and be safe: place plastic skulls on top of a trash bag to protect the surface underneath before spray painting. Always spray paint outdoors in a well ventilated area.
- Evenly coat all of your skulls with the glow in the dark spray paint. If you have enough, add a second coat about an hour after the first.
- Allow the skulls to dry and 'charge' in the sun outdoors for 24 hours.
- Use the permanent black marker to draw on traditional Day of the Dead face tattoo designs.
- Place the skulls back in the sunlight to gather additional solar power - this will help them glow when nighttime rolls around.
Outdoor Decorating Suggestions
Use the glow in the dark skulls to decorate your outdoor party space in the following ways.
- Place skulls evenly spaced on either side of the pathway leading to your home. This creates an illuminated pathway that is perfectly on-theme.
- Line up the skulls along a fence in the backyard, or place one skull on each fence post to spread the effect around the yard.
- Use them as outdoor table centerpieces. Add a few marigolds and votives around the skull to complete the look.
Buffet and Dessert Table Decoration Ideas
An often-overlooked opportunity for decoration is the food serving area. Since all the guests will see the buffet table during a party, it's in the prime position for decoration, and ensures your efforts won't go unnoticed.
Day of the Dead Table Runners
A table runner is at the base of every well-decorated tablescape.
- Go simple with a long traditional Hispanic sarape as a table runner. The vibrant color is perfect for a fiesta.
- If you're feeling crafty, print out Day of the Dead face tattoos in full-sheet paper size and tack them all together in an 18" by 120" length to create an on-theme DIY table runner.
Setting the mood at a party is a key part of creating a great atmosphere for guests. These candle ideas are simple yet impactful, and the low, flickering light is ideal for celebrating Dia de los Muertos.
- Candelabras are a beautiful and dramatic way to light your buffet table for a Day of the Dead party. Place one in the center of the table, or space two candelabras out equidistant from each other and the ends of the table for maximum visual impact. Draping traditional Dia de los Muertos marigold strings around the arms of the candelabra adds a pop of festive color.
- Instead of candelabras, create flickering light down the length of the table by adding 8-12 different candles in single candlesticks or candleholders along the dining table's centerline. To create a similar effect on a round dining table, place the tallest in the middle and the lowest candles (such as votives) closer to the food platters for heigh interest and plenty of glow. Scatter loose marigold flowers around the bases of the candles, or place a marigold garland down the center of a long table and tuck the individual candles on either side of the garland.
- Candles shouldn't be limited to placement on the food tables; add warm low light everywhere guests will congregate during the party, especially outdoors. Sprinkle votive candles on bars, over the fireplace, on outdoor walls, and on low and high cocktail tables are great spots for additional candles.
Add another pretty pop of color to the buffet and dessert decor by swagging along the edges of the tables.
- To keep in the tradition of Dia de los Muertos, swag marigold flower strings along the table edge and affix with a strong tape. Hide the tape by placing another marigold on top of the taped spot.
- Papel picado, or traditional cut paper banners make a colorful impact when swagged along a table. They are also very lightweight, and can be hung with just a piece of regular tape.
Create an Ofrenda-Inspired Dessert Table
A dessert table lends itself to the design of a traditional Dia de los Muertos ofrenda. Ofrendas consist of many of the loved one's favorite things, including desserts. Not only will it look beautiful, but it adds authenticity to the celebration's decor.
- Make your decoration impactful by integrating framed photos of relatives who have passed on, along with a selection of their favorite fruits and desserts.
- As with the buffet table, begin decorating by placing a table runner down for color and visual interest.
- Using a tiered dessert tray or by stacking two to three cake stands (largest cake stand on the bottom, with smaller ones on top), create a sugar skull centerpiece for the dessert table. On the top tray or cake plate, place a large sugar skull and accent with a small bunch of colorful faux flowers or real flowers as a base. Below, on the subsequent plates, scatter small individual size sugar skulls and decorate with pops of flowers (one to two pops of flowers per level).
- The tall tiered tray or cake stands act as a dessert table decor centerpiece. Add one more tall dessert item on a cake stand on each side of the centerpiece, spaced between the centerpiece and the end of the table. Two cakes on cake stands work well with this setup and make a visually symmetrical impact.
- Place all short items that are not on a tiered stand or tray on platters and arrange them in the front of the cake stands.
- Add individual candle votives (five to seven per long table), brightly colored real or faux floral bouquets, and painted plastic skulls between the platters to get the table into the Day of the Dead spirit.
Day of the Dead Skeletons and Skulls
Day of the Dead parties should include at least one iconic well-dressed skeleton, or calaca. Skeletons with the traditional whimsical face tattoos of Dia de los Muertos are dressed up in fancy clothing for the celebration.
- Buy a table-sized Dia de los Muertos skeleton to place on the fireplace, bar or food tables, and dessert tables. Place candles and marigolds around the base for a finishing touch.
- Life-sized skeletons are perfect for a wow factor your guests will love. Imagine placing a skeleton dressed up on either side of the doorway to welcome guests indoors. They an also be hung from walls and from ceilings.
- Medium-sized paper skeletons are an easy way to decorate walls both indoors and out. They can be hung from push pins placed in a wall, and the host can even encourage guests to get in on the decorating fun. Simply place a little container with a few colorful markers next to the hanging skeleton and add a sign explaining what to do.
- Swap out posters and prints already hanging on your walls with one or two Day of the Dead posters. Focus your efforts in rooms where guests will spend the most time at the party for maximum effect.
Creating a Festive Atmosphere
When creating your decoration plan for a Day of the Dead party, keep in mind a few tips to ensure all the bases are covered. First and foremost, create a budget - not every decor idea can always be carried out, and planning how much to spend will help prioritize which decorations are DIYs, which can be purchased, and which are not a must-have. Second, consider the areas of the house where the guests will spend the most time - plan the biggest decor bang (and budget allocation) in the areas guests frequent most. Finally, embrace the vibrant colors and celebratory mood with flowers, lighting and good music - Day of the Dead is a celebration of life, not a time to mourn.