How to throw a Day of the Dead/Dia de los Muertos theme party

Karina, Claudia and Me
Alright guys. It's one week later and now that I think I've finally recuperated, I wanted to share with you all of the fun details from our recent Day of the Dead party. Now, as you may know, this is our third year hosting this soiree so we've really been able to make this party unlike any other. And now with all of our experience, we wanted to give you all the necessary how-to instructions in case you want to do this party on your own. So here goes!

First, I can't stress enough that time is going to be your best friend if you want to get this theme party right. Making all of the detailed crafts take time and a lot of hands, so if you plan some fun craft nights with your friends, you'll be okay.

Banners of Papel Picado and strings of holiday lights make the place look festive.
Before hosting your first craft night, you will need to stock up on some supplies, which I've listed below.
  • Tissue paper to make paper flowers (we buy ours in bulk from PaperMart)
  • Pipe cleaner for the paper flowers
  • Pre-made paper mache skulls and masks (you'll definitely want to make your own in addition to these but it helps to buy some pre-made ones. We like these from Michael's)
  • Multi-colored acrylic paint to paint your skulls
  • Paintbrushes
  • Glitter and rhinestones to embellish your crafts
  • Crayola's Model Magic (we use this to mold our own skulls and Day of the Dead figurines)
Designated shrine area for our festive offerings.

This year we took it up a notch and used
a projector to screen this over the stairs.

How To's:
To make your own paper mache skulls, you can inflate balloons to a medium size (like the size of a head) and wrap them in vertical strips of newspaper dipped in water and glue (Elmer's school glue works well). Then when the newspaper dries, paint and decorate your skull and then when that dries, pop your balloon! Et Voila, your very own paper mache skull (There are more complicated ways to do this, but we find this method fairly simple and not too complicated.) Don't forget to embellish your skulls with glitter and rhinestones!

Paper flowers (great instructional video here. Except we don't cut the triangle in the tissue because it's really just an extra step you can avoid by scrunching the tissue with your fingers and wrapping the pipe cleaner around the center.)

Little skulls and figurines: use the Model Magic to make your own figurines. We just make these with our hands and sometimes use toothpicks to help make the faces (teeth, eyes, etc). Once they dry (usually overnight), we then paint them and cover them with glitter and rhinestones. Sparkle goes a long way so don't be afraid to overdo it. This is a great holiday to get carried away with bling.

In addition to all of your crafts, you will need to buy some additional items such as papel picado and religious candles. We buy our candles at the dollar store, but you should find them in most supermarkets. We also went to a local botanical store and bought tons of religious items: rosaries, posters, crosses and basically anything we thought would add pizazz to our decor.

Good online stores where you can find an assortment of crafts: here and here and here.

You will also need a pinata, which you can fill with candy and funny items. We've gotten very creative with what goes in ours, but if you can believe this, for the past two years, we have gotten so carried away with partying throughout the night that we have forgotten to bring out the pinata! But we are crazy.

The Layout
Once you have accumulated all of your items, plan the layout of your space. The most important part of having a party with this theme is to create shrines throughout your apartment. These shrines are where you provide offerings to the dead so this is where you put the skulls and all the decor you've worked on. But you can also add old black and white photographs (we've gotten ours at thrift stores), cookies, candies, etc. The more the better! You can also string colored holiday lights throughout your space. Everything should colorful and bright.

Now, if you're not already overwhelmed, other things you need and should plan are "stations." Like any other party, you need to designate where your guests will drink, put their coats, dance, mingle and smoke. And most importantly for a party like this, a makeup station! Yes, a makeup station. The reality is that some people will just not get the memo and show up sans makeup. So make it easy and fun for them by setting up a place where they can paint their faces on-site. All we did was get some white face paint and colored makeup and extra brushes and set it up by our desk where we had added a big mirror. Photo printouts also help as some people will just not know what to do. We also love this awesome tutorial here.
Friends helping friends.

Aimee does her makeup in the bathroom.
Notice the other details, no room left untouched!

Imbibe in Style
A specialty cocktail: tequila is the obvious beverage of choice here and our all-time fave for this event is Espolon. If you haven't already, check out their awesome labels asap! Illustrated in traditional 19th Century Dia de los Muertos style images, the labels illustrate the fictitious journey of characters Rosarita and Guadalupe, with their inspirational companion, Ramón the Rooster, depicting the struggles of the Mexican people during pivotal moments in history. You cannot get any more appropriate than this. And to top it off, we asked one of our friends who works at our favorite Mexican restaurant here in Brooklyn, Mesa Coyoacan, to make us a specialty Pumpkin Margarita cocktail. Here is a very rough estimate of how we did it (Multiply quantities at your discretion.)

Pumpkin Margarita
1 oz. Espolon blanco (we used four bottles because it was for a large party)
1 oz. pumpkin puree (We used five cans of Organic Pumpkin. It does not have to be organic, but that's all our supermarket carried. Make sure it is pure pumpkin, and not pumpkin pie mix. To prep it, we mixed it with cinnamon and a dash of nutmeg on the stovetop on medium heat for a bit until it became more of a puree.)
Splash of lime

You can see more Espolon recipes here.

Oh! And to top this off, the coolest thing we get is DRY ICE. Yes, dry ice. Some people may be scared of it because it'll burn you if you touch it, but if you just remember to handle it carefully, it adds a very awesome dramatic effect. We usually just buy 10lbs of it and add it to the punch bowl a little bit at a time.

A Photo Worthy Affair
This year we added a black light station so that our friends could get some cool photos. To do this, we bought a black light and black light bubbles on Amazon, and added some black light paint to a painting I previously owned. Then we set set up a tripod and a camera and with the help of some talented friends, got some pretty cool shots!

We used special black light makeup to create

fun photo opps. Wearing white also helped.
Rachel and Aimee strike a pose.
(Aimee flew out from LA just for this party!)

There Will Be Dancing!
No party is the same without people movin' and groovin' so make sure you plan ahead and make some fun, dance-worthy playlists. We're grateful that Karina's boyfriend, Charlie, happens to be an awesome DJ so he put together a smashing playlist that people are still reminiscing about. Some of my favorites on the playlist include these songs: Lil' Red Riding Hood, Down in Mexico, The Clapping Song, and Beggin'. These songs will make people move!

Late night limbo is always a hit!
The space looks cool with the projector and our fog machines.

The Cleanup

Cleaning up the next day is what we dread the most, but obviously, it must be done. As this party has a lot more to clean up than a typical one, we definitely recommend planning ahead for this and making sure you have all of your supplies: garbage bags, recycling bags, multi-purpose cleaner, a broom and a mop. And in addition, storage bins! Storage bins will save you a headache and lots of money for future parties. Make sure you buy these before and they will make your cleanup a lot easier. And you'll be really happy next year when you throw your second party and already have everything. We store everything from the paper mache skulls and candles to the papel picado that has survived. The only thing we ever really do again is the paper flowers because unfortunately, they just do not keep well (we tried last year but it didn't work out so well.)

If you can afford it, we also recommend hiring a cleaning service to do the last and final sweep. We're usually so tired after throwing out all the trash and rearranging the furniture that we always think how nice it would be for someone to just come and do the last bit of sweeping and mopping. This year was the first time we actually accounted for it and added it to our budget. Definitely worth every penny.

So there you have it, folks. Our detailed how-to guide for throwing this lavish affair. We wish you luck in yours and if you have any questions, feel free to reach out! We absolutely love talking about this thing.

See photos from Year Two here and Year One here.

Special thanks to Rachel, Ben and Megan for the photos.


Kika :

Wow, this looks amazing! I love the ideas- especially the idea of a make-up station!

Kattia-San Francisco My Song :

omg, you guys are beautiful geniuses, so amazing
next time I'll be there yay!!!!!

Miss Amy :

YES to a cleaning service!! :) the party looked amazing - great work ladies! Makeup was perfect too!

Sabrina :

Gosh, you guys are like the better version of the Kardashians. I love it.


Eliza Jane :

Wow, these photos are amazing! I envy everybody who got to go to this party!!

Katie*Belle :

This party is absolutely incredible! I love it!

Noodles and Waffles :

Holy cow! Your decorations and costumes are amazing.

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