My littlest little one turned 6 this October. October birthdays are, as she would say, the best. The weather change and school starting leave you with an expectation of new adventures to come, and a party replete with new friends and comfort foods.

As we were feeling exceptionally Halloween-y this year, my daughter was intent on a spooky theme for her party. The Halloween holiday usual- moaning zombies and hovering ghosts, dark hallways with things that go bump in the night. Bats and spiders and hooting owls.

But then, BOO!

We walked into to the Michaels and a new plan was formed. There, in all their flashy, splendid glory,  we discovered the Dia de los Muertos decorations, beckoning to us with technicolor fingers. Vivid pinks, intense blues, iridescent teal! Cadaverous skulls grinning from the shelves, complete with cigars and hats and flowers and hearts! Skeletons dancing! My girls were hooked and our Halloween birthday morphed instantaneously into a party and culture trip, combined.

  • The cultural narrative: Dia de los Muertos is celebrated on November 1st, and is intended to honor the dead with festivals and celebrations. It originated in Mexico and is now observed throughout Latin America. It is a custom that combines indigenous Aztec rituals with Catholicism, which was introduced to the region by Spanish conquistadors. The decorations of Dia de los Muertos are sensational and brilliant- skeletons and skulls, candied sweets, masks, dolls, all in rich hues with sparkling accents. The holiday is all about celebrating the lives of the dead. To learn more about it, and to see great pictures, check out National Geographic (or just google it).

Thus our Day of the Dead birthday party planning began.

  1. First things first. The invitation. I try to always print and mail invitations, mainly because I love getting mail, and assume others do too. On the internet I found this incredible artist, and looked to her designs for inspiration and party ideas. Check her out, buy her art: Pristine Cartera Turkus.

    Here is the invitation I put together from a picture of her work I found online
  2. Next up, sweets. I ordered cookies to be shipped to me from my all-time favorite cookie maker, Cake That! Bakery. She is based in Illinois, but does ship throughout the country, so contact her for any of your cookie requests. Cake That! Bakery has made cookies for so many of my birthday parties, I’ve lost count- Coraline, birdhouses, deer and toadstools. In this case she made some sugar skulls and skeleton kitties, which fit the theme perfectly, and tasted exquisite (and you can see the great paper plates we found at Michaels, too).
    Cake That! Bakery cookies and sweet Dia de los Muertos plates from Michaels

    Of course, every birthday party has a cake, and in this case I made 2- a traditional birthday cake for the littles, and a tres leches cake for the adults. The tres leches cake I make is always a hit, and since this was a party inspired by a Mexican holiday, it was perfect. The recipe I always use is this one. Trust me, its worth every egg (and there are 9). Sometimes I substitute coconut milk for the regular milk, and that is also amazing.

    I did not take a picture of the tres leches cake, since it pretty much just looked like a cake, but of course I took some of the Dia de los Muertos cake, which was fashioned after the artwork from the invitation- I used fondant and piped icing to get the details right. The picture isn’t great but you get the idea (and you can also see that I am no professional cake decorator).

    And finally, what spooky party is complete without some green-tinted lemonade mixed with dry ice…. ahem excuse me, I meant to say a very spooky and magical green potion.


  3. Not to be missed- decorations! I had a fantastic birthday party fairy this year, a great friend who had some extra time and incredible crafting skills, and she created goody bags and birthday banners. It gave the party such a personalized touch. We kept the banners up all the way to November 1st. I also painted the skull hanging on the wall, which was a super fun craft project to do with my girlies.img_3595-e2img_3732

    She also re-styled a skull pinata into a fabulous Day of the Dead version.

  4. Lastly, activities. The kids made skull jewelry, colored Dia de los Muertos pictures, and just ran around being kids.
    Skull beads for jewelry making

    To end the night, another friend (I have some amazing friends) loaned us a movie projector, popcorn maker, and movie screen, and the big event was an “outdoor” movie. Or, it would have been an outdoor movie… But since this was the weekend that Hurricane Matthew hit the US, including North Carolina, it became an indoor movie. No biggie, kids loved it. The original plan was to play The Book of Life, a really fun and visually unique animated movie where the main character, Manolo, forays from the living world to the dead in order to find his true love. Unfortunately, Netflix delivered the movie the day after the party, so we didn’t actually get to watch it then. But as a backup we showed The Nightmare Before Christmas, always a crowd-pleaser and an epic movie in its own right. All was well.

    The kids had fun, the grown ups had fun, and my newly minted 6 year old was all smiles. As I mentioned at the beginning of this blog post, October birthdays are the best!