I grew up in Los Angeles where Day of the Dead, or Dia de los Muertos, played a big cultural role in our community and home. This two day holiday, celebrated across Mexico November 1-2, reunites the living and the dead through heartfelt and decorative altars that bring families together in celebration of life. You might know the holiday’s symbols of altars (ofrendas) to ancestors with offerings such as candles, food, and photographs of loved ones, colorful sugar skulls and skeletons (calaveras), and the bright marigold flowers (cempasuchil) that are known in Mexico as the flower of the dead.
Building an ofrenda can be an elaborate affair and it’s believed that offering love and gifts to ancestors makes for happy spirits who in turn bring good luck and protection to their families.
Pro tip: If you’re looking for Day of the Dead events in your community, just type “day of the dead events near me” into Google or click here and see what turns up. 🙂
If you’re ready to create your own crafts for Day of the Dead, I have a roundup of decorations you can make yourself to bring the celebration into your own home or community.
How to Make Sugar Skulls
Sugar skulls are one of the most recognizable and powerful symbols of Day of the Dead. They come in various sizes, from about 1″-4″ tall. Traditionally made from a combination of sugar, water, and lemon juice, they’re now most commonly created with the addition of merengue powder, which holds them together over time. I appreciate this personal account of the meaning and importance behind sugar skulls.
If you’re eager to make your own sugar skulls, note that this is a labor of love and takes a bit of time. Give yourself about two hours to make and decorate the molds, and another couple hours for the icing to harden and set.
If you’re ready to make your own sugar skulls, I have a few recommendations.
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Sugar Skull Ingredients
Second, one of the key ingredients is meringue powder. If it’s not available in your local market or cooking shop, you can get meringue powder online. I like this meringue powder brand because it’s made in a dedicated gluten and nut-free facility.
Last, you’ll also need sugar, powdered sugar, and royal icing (more meringue powder and powdered sugar!). I like this recipe from Sally’s Baking Addiction.
Sugar Skull Instructions
I like these simple instructions to make sugar skulls, or Calavera de Azúcar
How to Make Paper Marigolds
Day of the dead celebrations are decorated with brilliant orange and yellow marigold flowers, which are prevalent across Mexico in early fall. You can decorate your altar with live flowers, and/or make your own from tissue paper and string or pipe cleaners to hold your flower together.
To make your own marigolds, follow these easy instructions.
How to make a Dia de los Muertos Ofrenda
This is a great explanation about how to build an altar that breaks it down easy peasy with a sweet illustration. The basic idea is that there are three levels that represent the underworld, earth, and heaven. The underworld is decorated with ashes, marigolds, a cross to represent a grave, and a mat for the dead to wipe their feet. The next level is decorated with a feast of food and drinks. And the top level is decorated with symbols of heaven such as a cross, more marigolds, incense, and candles
If you’re going to build your own ofrenda, you may also like this handy checklist PDF.
How to Make Papel Picado
Papel picado is cut paper, which, for kids, can be made a lot like paper snowflakes. If you look at the photo of the ofrenda, above, you’ll see papel picado strung across the altar. Our friends at Deep Space Sparkle have a nice papel picado tutorial that you’ll enjoy checking out.
More Day of the Dead Crafts for Preschool Children
Tin Painting, a Mexican hand craft made easy for preschoolers
Playdough Calavera Cookies, find these special Day of the Dead skull cookie cutters for experimenting with play dough, perfect for little ones.