Move Over Halloween!  Day of the Dead is becoming more and more popular north of the border with festive ways to decorate your home this time of year. Featuring candy skulls, paper banners, and the color pop of bright orange marigolds, the symbols of this Mexican traditional holiday appeal to many people, especially those who don’t enjoy the creepy/gory aspect of Halloween.

El Día de los Muertos (sometimes just called Día de Muertos) occurs on November 2nd every year, corresponding with the Feast of All Souls in the Catholic faith. According to tradition, on the Day of the Dead the souls of the departed are permitted to return to earth to visit their family members for twenty-four hours. Families welcome them and help guide them home with altars featuring photos of the deceased family members, candles, marigold flowers, pan de muertos (a sweet bread that literally translates as “the bread of the dead”) and the favorite food and drinks of those who have passed on.

Decorations for Day of the Dead often consist of cheerful skulls, paper picado banners, and marigold flowers (it is said their scent helps guide the dead to their altars). Here are a few DIY Day of the Dead decorations you can make at home.

All. The. Calaveras.

You can never have too many calaveras (skulls). In Mexico, vendors sell tiny ones made of sugar and decorated with colorful icing smiles or painted wooden ones for decoration. Here are a few fun ideas to try.

Smiling Stone Skulls. Stones and paint are all you need to make these pocket-sized skulls shared by Portland artist Alisa Burke. Simply paint one side of the stone white, add black features for the eyes, nose, and friendly grimace. Then decorate with brightly colored dots and flowers.

Suncatcher Bead Skulls. This project uses wooden skull cut-outs you can find at Michaels or another craft store. Line a metal baking sheet with foil and fill the holes in the cut-out with colorful pony beads. Set the pan on a hot grill until the beads melt. When the project cools, you can paint the cut-out or keep the natural wood-grain look.

You can also buy those white pumpkins that are often overlooked at the grocery store and paint traditional Day of the Dead skull faces on them. Clay flower pots painted white and then similarly decorated work well, too. Once you master the traditional style of the skull face, the possibilities are endless!

Paper Picado Banners

The traditional paper banners of Day of the Dead are inexpensive and easy to find online, but you can make them yourself as well. Use tissue paper or, for a sturdier option, lightweight plastic tablecloth material. Cut pieces to the desired size, then find a template online or design your own. (Templates are available for skull-
shaped, rectangular, or scalloped designs, to name a few). Trace the
design and start cutting, or you can go rogue and “snowflake” it, folding
the material and snipping away like you would do for a paper snowflake project. String them up as a garland one of two ways: either punch holes in the top two corners for the string or fold the papel picado over the string and glue it down (works better with tissue paper than plastic).

Marigold Flowers

It’s not Day of the Dead without marigold flowers. But rather than spending a lot of money at the florist, you can make your own out of bright orange or golden yellow tissue paper and pipe cleaners. You can make the flowers any size, but a good start is to cut your tissue paper into 7.5 by 10 inch pieces. Fold the paper accordion style and use scissors to round off each end. Wrap a pipe cleaner around the middle, then gently fan out the “flower petals.” Fluff your flowers and display!


Lanterns and luminaries are all the rage this time of year, right up there with pumpkin-spiced lattes and zombies. You can put a Day of the Dead spin on any type of paper, tin can, or mason jar luminary, but we really like this one: Draw your paper picado-type design on a paper bag and use an X-acto knife to cut out various parts where you want the light to shine through. Cut the rim off a short paper cup and tape the paper bag design around it. Fill the cup with rice and an LED light, then line your windowsill, counter, or fireplace mantel ¡Ándale! (You got it!)

If you try your hand at these Day of the Dead projects or any others,we’d love to see your results!

Share your photos and comments on our Facebook page at  Tutorials and YouTube Videos can be found online for any of these Dia De Los Muertos projects.

Feliz Día De Los Muertos!