Day of the Dead Party - Día de los Muertos

How to throw a Day of the Dead inspired Halloween party

October is here and that can only mean one thing…it’s nearly Halloween! This spooky holiday is the perfect excuse to throw a party, but fake fangs and sequinned devil horns are so 2014. This year it’s all about celebrating life and hosting a colourful Day of the Dead inspired bash, so here is TOAST’s guide to adding a stylish, Mexican twist to your Halloween celebrations this year.

STEP AWAY from the supermarket decorations. Yes, I know that giant paper maché spider is fun but this year calls for something a little more, well, original.

A National holiday that originated in Mexico, Day of the Dead, also known in Spanish as Día de los Muertos, is a 3000-year-old ritual that is a celebration of life, that is getting bigger every year and today is celebrated all over the world.

A vast and extraordinary parade is held every year in Mexico City - recently the dramatic setting for the opening scenes of the latest Bond installment, Spectre. Thanks to this and growing media coverage, not to mention the beautiful, rich visuals and incredible culture behind the holiday, plus it’s proximity to Halloween, it has seen its international popularity increase.

Traditionally, it is a time for friends and family to come together to celebrate and honour their deceased loved ones. It may be called Day of the Dead, but the festivities actually take place over two nights; November 1 when families welcome back children who have died, and November 2 when adults are remembered. The belief is that the gates of heaven open at midnight on October 31, so that the spirits can come down to enjoy the festivities that are prepared for them. 

Beautiful altars (traditionally known as ofrendas) are made and decorated with candles, colourful sugar skulls, buckets of vibrant flowers, plus mounds of fruit and food all for the enjoyment of the other-worldly spirits that come to visit. Men and women dress up in black and red dresses and suits, and paint their faces beautifully – colorful skeletons festooned with hearts and vibrant flowers. It is a real feast for the eyes.

So forget the plastic fangs and polyester witch hats – a Day of the Dead themed party is a fresh, fun and super stylish way of celebrating Halloween this year, and here is TOAST’s guide to doing just that…

Welcoming The Dead

Get your guests excited as they arrive at your door with a colourful floral archway using a string of paper flowers and small tissue pompoms from the Pom Pom Studio. Hang these minature skulls in between your poms and weave festoon lights around the edges. Light your guests path with multicoloured tea lights in jars or battery powered candles to set the mood.  As a last touch, add this colourful Day of the Dead wreath from Sew Loved Up to give your guests a taste of what’s to come.

Entrance Accessories Pompomstudio Sewlovedup And Fieldguide35blogspotcom

(Image Credits: Left to Right Darbie of Fieldguide35blogspotcomPom Pom Studio, Sewlovedup)  

Spooky Skulls & Deadly Decorations

Any Day of the Dead celebration requires lots of skulls. But not just any skulls - traditionally sugar skulls are heavily featured.  Not the white, skeletal ones reminiscent of a biology lesson at school (or a dodgy production of Macbeth) – sugar skulls are painted with beautifully intricate, colourful patterns, and are synonymous with Mexico and Día de los Muertos and represent immortality.  These colourful sugar skulls from Caoba and Casita Bonita are in the traditional style and perfect to set your fiesta.

If you’re feeling creative, you can also buy your own ceramic skull from Hobbycraft or included in this nifty kit £5.99 from Forbidden Planet is everything you need to paint a mini sugar skull yourself, including 4 pots of paint, a paintbrush, plus a selection of gems, sequins, glitter, and ribbon. Oh and a skull of course. There’s also an illustrated 32-page book on the history of sugar skulls and how to decorate your own.

A real sugar skull showstopper is this giant wall sticker. Place it in the hallway for instant impact when your guests arrive, or have it looming over the dinner table. Easily applied and removed without leaving glue residue on yours walls, the sticker comes in 4 different sizes, in 3 different colours, so you can choose what fits your home best. Just be sure to pick where you plan to put it before ordering the size and colour. 

For something more modest this Hettie Holland Floral Decorative Skull, with its intricately carved detail is reminiscent of Day of The Dead décor and contrasts beautifully. For a simple and colourful nod to tradition, place a number of these sugar skulls around the room on table tops and sideboards in clusters or alone, and surround them with a selection of bright florals and flickering candles, lit to guide the spirits home, whilst creating a suitably gohstly atmosphere.


Hettie Holland Floral Decorative Skull Trouva

(Image Credits: Caoba from £29.00 and Hettie Holland Homeware £38.00)

Devilish Fiesta

The perfect Day of the Dead party décor should combine deep blood reds and blacks accented with bright neon’s of yellow, green, blue and pink, to create a Mexican fiesta.  

Papel Picado – or handcut bunting, with emblems of skulls and florals cut into patterns are the decoration of choice for this celebration of life. Mexican Decorations have this colourful set, ready to hang across the room to create a vibrant authentic look.  Bunch together clushers of colourful tissue pom poms from Pom Pom Studio in corners of the room and inbetween your bunting to bring your Mexican fiesta to life. 

Mexican Decorations

(Image Credits: Mexican Decorations Papel Picado 2.50 per 1.7m)

Create and Altar  

One of the most known traditions of a Day of the Dead party is the altar (ofrenda), created with offerings of food for the deceased. The key purpose of this custom is to make a connection between life and death and let those passed know that they are not forgotten and their loved ones still care, and should be the centerpiece of your event. 

Traditional Altar

Traditional Altar Blue

(Traditional Day of the Dead Altars)

Amanda, founder and owner of boutique vintage china and gold cutlery hire company Vintage GoldChina recommends a black sequin tablecloth for a dramatic Halloween table, which will off-set dozens of little hand-painted sugar skulls perfectly.

Use multicolored candelabras from Event Prop Hire to add some drama and style, and this galvanised iron bowl to place your bottles in, and drape floral garlands from a central point on the ceiling in a curtain effect to surround and frame your table alter – we love these fringe festoon garlands from the Pretty Little Party Shop to add colour and extra texture to your table. 

Lighting And Wall Art

(Image credits: Black Candelabra Pumpkin Events, Iron bowl Ella and James £49.00, Colourful candelabras Event Prop Hire)

For an eerily disturbing prop, add this bright, intricate handcrafted sugar skull cross to create a centerpiece for your altar.


A Day of the Dead altar requires plenty of fresh flowers, such as marigolds, dahlias and deep red roses, so buy these from your local florist and place around your altar table and the rest of your home. For cost effectiveness think about what is in season. “Buying in season will always be better quality and better value,” says expert floral stylist Sabine Darrall. “Chrysanthemum blooms and dahlias are perfect for single stem vases for a simple but cost effective table center or mantel piece.

Petals can also be strewn across the table and used to surround stands and plates that will be used to display a spread of delicious treats and all of the deceased favourite foods. For the perfect props, Tina Nisson Design have these fabulous Church Window food stands and canape trays that they designed for Create Food at their 2012 Venues Party. Hosted at St Paul’s Cathedral. For more ideas on how to lay a food station, take a look at our feature over on theEdit. 

Tina Nisson Design Church Windows

(Images Credit: Tina Nisson Designs)

If you’re looking to wow and amaze, hang this incredible neon sugar skull sign from Lights of Soho to illuminate your room dramatically.

Neon Light

(Image Credit: Soho Lights £1,000 to purchase) 

A Terrifying Table

For a more intimate dinner party table, set each place with alternating coloured chargers and multi coloured glassware from Duchess and Butler. For crockery, the fantastical designs from Melody Rose lend a contemporary and quirky twist to beloved and traditional fine china and will add some graveyard style to your table. This gold bone cutlery set from Vintage Gold China Hire is perfect for a classy, skelatal look. Add a black napkin and a red crepe paper rose and write the name of your guest on the petal in gold pen to personalised each place setting to complete the look.

Vintage Gold China Autumn Table

Melody Rose


(Image credits: Black tablescape and cutlery Vintage Gold China Hire, crockery Melody Rose charger Duchess and Butler,  Red Rose Pom Pom Studio)

If you’re creating your own menus, another must-have for your Day of the Dead do is this sugar skull stamp £8 from hobbycraft– the ultimate in versatile crafting. Use a pad of colour or black ink to print the stylish skull pattern just about anywhere; then colour it in or leave it monochrome for added drama. Use the stamp on invitations, placemats or menus, or you can also use it to make your own garland by cutting out the printed skulls and threading them with string.

Place plenty of twinkling tea lights in candle holders and dot these around your home; where possible place them in corners of surfaces and (safely) against walls so that the light can flicker and reflect off nearby surfaces.

For bigger, more informal parties these Skeleton Crew Paper Plates from Talking Tables, with this fun porcelain gold disposable cutlery is a fun and effective way of maintaining the Mexican theme AND they save on the washing up, too (phew). 

Skeleton Crew Paper Plates

(Image credit: Talking Tables from £3.50) 

Get the Look 

Day of the Dead is all about colouful accessorizing so limit your outfit choice to black. 

Face and Body Art

Colourful face painting is a big part of Day of the Dead symbolism, and dates back to Aztec times. The look is a combination of a white base, black skeletal lines and then lots of vibrant symbols and patterns such as flowers and hearts. And feel free to go wild with the glitter! 

Gabrielle Whittaker is a master face paint artist using remarkable techniques to transform your appearance. Her elaborate Day of the Dead halloween look evokes a classic, elegant look whilst TV film makeup artist Maria Malone’s Bride is beautifully intricate and suitably haunting.

Gabrielle Whittaker And Maria Malone

(Image credits: Gabrielle Whittaker and Maria Malone’s)

If you want to go fully decorated, Karen Harvey of Wow Factor Faces has a passion for creating intricate face and body designs for Halloween, and her expert Day of the Dead body art is exquisite. These two stunningly detailed, hand painted designs are sure to transform you into a visual spectacle.  


(Image Credit: Wow Factor Faces)

If you’d prefer to get creative yourself, get yourself a transferable Face Lace and butterfly eye masks and  some brilliant bats and spider webs for extra detail from Paperself. For a super quick and easy fix, Topshop do a very clever sugar skull face sticker for £4, which is basically a temporary tattoo that can be easily applied to the face to create an instant sugar skull effect! They come in a variety of styles and patterns from colours to diamanté monochrome so you can pick which style you prefer. 

Happy Thought’s also offer a simple step-by-stpe sugar skull face painting tutorial here, while body and face painter Natasha Kudashkina does a great YouTube tutorial which you can see here

Floral Crowns

Finish off the freaky face paint with a gorgeous Dia de Muertos-inspired floral headdress, like this beauty from Gypsy Rose Vintage. Made using a mixture of deep red and peach tinted artificial silk roses which sit on a black satin covered alice band base, which can be bent to fit any head size. We also love this skeleton hand crown with its colourful florals from She’s My Sister Shop.  For a darker look, try a spooky Gold Flower Fascinator Skull with succession of red velvet roses and spiders from  Rockability, or Mystic Magic Masks with its messy plum coloured ribbon bows mashed together with fathers, pink roses, leaves, butterflies, vintage brass filigree and bound with royal blue ribbon. Pearls and a blood dripped meerkat skull finishes this piece creepily. 

Flower Crowns DOTD

(Image Credits: Mystic Magic Masks POA, She’s My Sister Shop £15, and Rockability £45)

For a super stylish finishing touch - add some sparkle with Tatty’s Devine’s Day of the Dead inspired Sugar Skull Necklace. Laser cut in jet black acrylic, each skull is hand inked with flower, star, hand and shoe motifs and studded with colourful Swarovski crystals. Their Day of the Dead cufflinks are perfect for chaps to, coupled with this stylish pocket square from Furious Goose.

Tatty Devine

(Image credit: Tatty Devine Necklace £45, Cufflinks £35) 

Furious Goose

(Image credit: Furious Goose £65)

Eerie Eats

As the Día de los Muertos is a traditionally a Mexican holiday, serve big bowls of guacamole, salsa and chips for dipping - an easy and always popular party snack, alongside some classic mini Qesadillas of meat and salsa for something a little more filling. For a more formal sit down occasion plump for a big bowl of chili con carne and mounds of steaming rice and tacos.  Co-founder of the award-winning Wahaca Mexican restaurants, Thomasina Miers’ who create an annual Mexican Day of the Dead festival this year at the Vaults in London, has released Wahaca - Mexican Food at Home which is all about cooking authentic Mexican food in your own kitchen and is packed full of party- perfect recipes to recreate yourself. 

As tradition suggests, a loaf of Pan de Muertos (Mexican Bread of the Dead) is essential.  A type of sweet roll this is traditionally baked in Mexico during the weeks leading up to the Día de Muertos and shaped like a bun with rolled pieces that resemble bones to decorate and topped with sugar to then eat at the altar. To make your own, Art is Fun provide a great recipe here


In keeping with a sweet tooth, Lily Vanilli created these gorgeous Hibiscus Friands and Pear, Parsnip Chilli and Ginger Cakes with chilli chamomile ginger syrup and parsnip chips as part of Miers’s 2015 Day of the Dead festival, perfectly unique in flavour, and guarenteed to tantelise your guests tastebuds.

Lily Vanilli

(Image Credit: Lily Vanilli)

Trick or Treats

If you want to give your guests a little treat to take home, (it is Halloween after all…) these Day of the Dead chocolates from the Whimsical Cake Company are little beauties, all handmade from Belgian white chocolate, with edible chocolate flower crowns, topped with edible gold glitter. Almost too pretty to eat! To continue the theme, these sugar skulls from Nila Holden available exclusively at Fortnum and Masons are a great momento

The Whimsical Cake Company and Nila Holden

(Image Credit: The Whimsical Cake Company £17, Nila Holden)

Chilling Tipples 

No Day of the Dead party would be complete without some terrifying tipples, and as the holiday is traditionally Mexican, we’re talking tequila.

Altos Olmeca premium tequila is made from 100% agave (so no nasties) and quite frankly, it’s delicious. Use it to make El Diablo – a cocktail with a blood red twist, and a suitably scary name (El Diablo means The Devil in Spanish…). Have a tray of these ready to impress your guests - take a look at our recipe and serving suggestions on theEdit.

For maximum effect serve your devilish El Diablos in tall glasses – LSA’s  chunky BAR Long Mixer glasses are ideal, and decant your tequila into these amazing sugar skull decanters…

For the beer drinkers amongst your guests get some cans of Swedish brew Pistonhead Lager, which features a fun and freaky sugar skull print on its cans. 

For other (less visual) cocktails, sprits and mixers check out Bespoke Barware’s Day of the Dead cocktail cups, individually hand-made by their skilled ceramics team. They come in 4 suitably vibrant Mexican colours – green, lime green, red and yellow. Go for a mixture to make a real impact.


(Image Credits LSA glasses £40 for 4, Decanters £19.99, Altos Tequila Plata £20.50 for 700ml, Pistonhead Lager £1.75 per can, Bespoke Bareware skull cup £14.50) 

Latino Vibes 

Make your party a true colourful celebration with a mix of Latin Mexican beats and Afro-Mexican and indie mambo bands. Download tunes to your playlist that include Calaverita - La Santa Cecilia which embodies the spirit of Día de los Muertos with lyrics like, “I’m not afraid of death”, and “Here’s to celebrating life!” Calaveras y Diablitos - Los Fabulosos Cadillacs a classic that reaffirms that death is nothing to fear and life is meant to be lived.  You could also make a music tribute by playing this little compilation, ‘Day of the Dead’ is an epic tribute to the music and artistry of the Grateful Dead, curated by Aaron and Bryce Dessner of The National. They have brought together some of their favourite musicians to reinterpret the songs and sounds of the Dead for a new generation. 59 tracks and over 5 hours of music makes the album a landmark playlists for your event.

If you want to hire in some entertainers, the Mariachi Mexteca are fabulous entertainers putting a latin twist on some modern classics or Girl Mariachi Band The Chicas, an all girl Mariachi Band based in London, blend traditional mariachi music with English songs, producing unique and entertaining sounds.  

Finally, get your guests to dance the 'La danza de los viejitos' – a dance performed by dancers who dress up as old people for the Day of the Dead in the Michoacan region of Mexico. 


A Fun & Freaky Finishing Touch

Fun for kids and grown-ups alike is this Day of the Dead piñata £12.99– fill it with sweets and treats (no tricks…) and let your guests take turns hitting it with the piñata stick until the contents falls to the ground. Just beware of any nearby breakables, especially after a few El Diablos have been consumed…  

And for a showstopping finale, enlist the help of Plunge Productions who created this beautifully crafted, giant sugar skull, carved out of polystyrene, and reinforced with fibreglass so that a performer or dancer could climb in and out of it, while being wheeled around the dance floor.  Painted in UV reactive paints so that as the main lights get dimmed, the designs on skull shines out this is the perfect showstopper.

Plunge Productions

(Image credit: Plunge Productions

So gather your friends and family and come together to celebrate life this Hallowe'en!

Finally don’t forget to head over to Toast’s Little Black Book for a whole host of inspirational suppliers who can help bring your most horrible Halloween ideas to life!


Posted in Inspire Me

by Sophie Farrah
on on 21 October 2016

  celebration of life, day of the dead, halloween

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