Looking to start a new family tradition this year? Celebrate the Mexican Holiday Day of the Dead. Our family really looks forward to el Dia de los Muertos each year. It has become one of our favorite family traditions because it is all about remembering and celebrating our loved ones who have passed away. On November 1st, we spend the day decorating, cooking, and in the evening we host a special dinner where we laugh and share our favorite memories of those we miss.
To help share the tradition with your family, here are some ideas on how to celebrate Day of the Dead with your kids and make it fun.
Set up an altar.
This “altar” or ofrenda is not for worshipping, it’s just a fun, colorful reminder of the people you miss. Usually Day of the Dead altars have 3 tiers, which have some significance that you can read about here if you are going for accuracy, but set it up however you want.
We like to include marigolds (the traditional flower of Day of the Dead), candles, skull candy (calaveras), papel picado tissue paper scenes, and some Day of the Dead folk artwork that we’ve collected. The National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago has a great gift shop to buy little trinkets and figures for decorating. La Fuente imports and MexicanSugarSkulls.com sells quite a few items online, as well.
The most important element is to include on the altar are photos of your loved ones – we even include our pets. Then add objects that represent what they loved or reminds you of them. We’ve included some of Grandpa’s favorite food, a can of his favorite beer, and a blanket Grandma made of his old shirts. We include some cat toys for our deceased pets, too. Then you can decorate with Day of the Dead inspired folk art or crafts.
If you want to practice making a virtual altar or learn more about the holiday, check out this great kid-friendly Day of the Dead Smithsonian site.
Craft it up.
I love the artwork associated with Day of the Dead. The beautiful intense colors, the whimsical skeletons at play, and the humor all appeal to me. You can make the following crafts with your kids to help decorate for your Day of the Dead celebration.
An essential part of Day of the Dead fun and decorations, I love these colorful sugar skulls or calaveras. You can buy them online or spend an afternoon making your own. Here’s a good video from the Food Network on Day of the Dead and making sugar skulls. Or for more detailed instructions, check out MexicanSugarSkull.com. Every year the National Museum of Mexican Art brings a family up from Oaxaca Mexico to make sugar skulls. It’s amazing to watch them work and we always grab some skulls personalized with our names.
At SpanglishBaby.com they show you have to make a shoebox Day of the Dead altar. Fun, if the kids want to take it in to show and tell to talk about their Grandpa or Grandma or favorite pet. In the same post, they also have a good tutorial on how to make tissue paper flowers to decorate.
Crayola.com has instructions on how to make the traditional paper picadoor cut tissue paper decorations for Day of the Dead.
Alphamom.com shows you how to make a fun Day of the Dead Necklace with your kids.
These cute Day of the Dead Masks from ThriftyFun.com would be a fun rainy day project with the kids.
There are some really good books written for kids that explain Day of the Dead. Day of the Dead by Tony Johnston and Jeanette Winter is a good one. Felipa and the Day of the Dead by Birte Muller is another one of our favorites that is more of a story. Finally, a book that doesn’t talk directly about Day of the Dead but is a great kids counting story that features Day of the Dead inspired art, is Just A Minute: A Trickster Tale and Counting Book by Yuyi Morales.
Eat, Drink and Share Memories.
Host a Day of the Dead dinner for your family or invite some friends. Last year we invited some of our closest family friends to come over for dinner and help us celebrate. We asked them to bring a photo of their most missed loved ones. At the party, it was so nice to hear our friends talk about the people in the life that they miss and share their funny stories. The kids really liked hearing about other people parents, grandparents, or favorite pets.
For the dinner, we traditionally make some of Grandpa’s favorite foods or Mexican food. Make whatever helps you remember the people you want to celebrate. It is traditional to serve Pan Muerto or Day of the Dead bread at the celebration, which is a sweet, fruity bread. We get ours from a local Mexican bakery or here’s an easy recipe for Pan de Muertos (Day of the Dead Bread), from Allrecipes.com.
Have fun celebrating Day of the Dead with your family. By celebrating the dead, we remember to live more.
Do you celebrate Day of the Dead with your family? Please leave us a comment and share what you do to make the day special and fun?