When trying to decide on a tablescape idea for Halloween this year, I kept being drawn to Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) imagery. While Halloween and Day of the Dead have a lot of similarities (both holidays honor the dead and have religious origins), they also have distinct differences.
Halloween has moved farther away from its religious traditions (attending church services and lighting candles on graves) and is now more secular. It’s all about trick-or-treating, costume parties, carving pumpkins, telling scary stories, watching horror films and attending haunted attractions. Concepts that often fear death and glorify horror.
On the other hand, Day of the Dead is still steeped in traditions focused on honoring friends and family members who have died. Celebrated throughout Mexico and other countries on November 1 and 2, Day of the Dead is a joyful time filled with lively festivals and celebrations with the intention to celebrate life instead of mourn death. The more I read about the holiday, the more I wanted to celebrate it. And so, instead of a Halloween party this year, I propose hosting a Day of the Dead party.
Those who observe Day of the Dead usually set up altars for diseased family members. Decorations include candles, marigolds, skeletons and sugar skulls. They choose to celebrate life, so even the skeletons and skulls are depicted doing activities enjoyed in life. My tablescape incorporates all these traditional elements, but in a modern way.
Create this Day of the Dead Table
Start with a black tablecloth and black lace. Inspired by the costumes for Day of the Dead, I went with black lace as the main “neutral” for the table. Believe it or not, this is a black plastic tablecloth with black lace overlay. I used two black tablecloths in order to cover the legs of the table and then used 3 pieces of the 19″ lace pattern tulle I found on Oriental Trading.
Create a table runner to honor loved ones. This is perhaps my favorite detail. I used black and white photographs to make a collage down the center of the table. The pictures were of my grandparents and other relatives who have passed away. The photos also included people still living, but every photo featured someone who was no longer with us. I thought this was a nice way to get to honor my loved ones without creating an altar to them. Turns out, this is an extremely fun (and emotional) way to remember those we’ve lost. Memories came flooding back to me and I was filled with gratitude and longing for these wonderful people. It’s also a profound way to teach kids about grandparents and great-grandparents they never had a chance to meet. It’s a family history lesson at it’s finest. If inviting friends to your party, ask them to send you pictures of their loved ones so you can include them in your collage.
To make table runner, just print black and white photos. You can print them as photographs or I had digital files so was able to print 2-3 images per 8.5 x 11 page. I printed on white cardstock and then cutted them out with an 1/8″ white border. I then layered them down the center of the table. I printed 14 pages and the total cost was about $2.00.
Add floral centerpieces. Flowers are what sold me on doing a Day of the Dead table. All the inspiration pictures I found were bright and cheerful mainly because of the flowers. I discovered marigolds are the traditional flower for Day of the Dead. I paired the bright orange flower with fuchsia coxcomb, pincushions, yellow billy balls, clover, micro eucalyptus and lemon tip leaves. Also, those are faux pink roses! I needed a bit more pink, but didn’t have anything real so I used faux ones I had purchased for another project. Even in person, you couldn’t tell. I made the arrangements in aged terra cotta pots wrapped in 6″ black lace ribbon. I used three pots down the center of the table. The result is a rustic, yet elegant touch.
Add skulls and candles. I finished the center of the table by adding two white ceramic skulls and four pillar candles. I covered the traditional Catholic altar candles in black lace. I found the candles at my local 99 cent store. I love how they are not only a nod to the “altar” tradition for Day of the Dead, but they are inexpensive too! I attached the black lace using a glue stick, so easy.
Add your place settings. I paired plastic black plates and black plastic wine glasses with real, vintage silverware. I love mixing high and low to create just the right look. Napkins are a Spooky Floral Dinner Napkin from Oriental Trading. I topped each plate with a DIY Day of the Dead Skull inspired by La Calavera Catrina (a Mexican icon for celebrating Day of the Dead).
Add finishing touches. I created DIY Day of the Dead Skulls as well as DIY Sugar Skull Drink Stirrers. Below are instructions for both.
DIY Day of the Dead Skulls
- DIY Unfinished Wood Skull Shapes
- 5″ x 6″ piece of black lace
- 3 small faux flowers
- White paint
- Glue gun
First, paint your wood skull white. Glue lace to top of skull and then cover by gluing 3 faux flowers on top.
DIY Sugar Skull Lollipop Drink Stirrers
Another easy craft idea that elevates cheap lollipops into a fun drink stirrer.
- Frosted Day of the Dead Lollipops
- Paper Straws
- Black Lace cut to 1/2″ wide by 15″ long
- Double-sided tape
To make, wrap a piece of double sided tape around the top of the lollipop stick. Cut straw to the length you want your stirrer and then insert lollipop stick. Press down on the top of the straw so it sticks to the double-sided tape. Finish with a lace bow.
Thank you to Oriental Trading for sending me a lot of the Day of the Dead items used in this post. They also have wonderful Halloween options as well. Although I received products to include in this post, I don’t receive any compensation for anything you may purchase from their website.