The set up for our for Dia de los Muertos party

October 6, 2023

(This post was co-written by my mother-in-law who provided all the recipes Day of the Dead below. Thank you!)

Inspired by Manny’s Mexican heritage and watching the movie Coco way too many times with the kids, we have now been making our own Dia de los Muertos altar (Day of the Dead) for awhile now. If you aren’t familiar with this tradition, it’s holiday that involves family and friends gathering to remember friends and family members who have died. BUT it’s more of a celebration rather than mourning. There’s food, drinks and lots of memories. I feel like this year now more than ever, we need to celebrate LIFE! I am looking forward to it and spending time with my parents and in laws.

It’s very popular in Mexico and every family has their own take on it. I am just sharing what we have done in the past and what we will do this year! The kids loved it last year. We put on Coco, made food and put together the altar.

This year, it runs from Wednesday, November 1st, 2023 – Thursday, November 2nd, 2023.

What you need

Like I mentioned, there are many ways each family create their own Day of the Dead altar. Here is what we use:

  • Photos of family members you’d like to include.
  • Oranges – to feed the soul in the after life
  • Water – quench their thirst
  • Salt – purify their souls
  • Sugar skulls- the fragility & sweetness of life
  • Candles – to give hope & life
  • Alcohol – their favorite things
  • For decor I will hang over the altar (which is just our china cabinet), I found Papel Picado banner for under $12 at Target. You could use 1-3 of them. Amazon has some too (that’s what we used, but they are plastic and didn’t last us)
  • Flowers – scent attracts the spirits to visit their family on the day of the dead. I bought these Marigold flowers (it’s the ones all over in the Coco movie) from Amazon. They are fake so we plan on using them every year! We also add a few real ones we will get from local street vendors in Pilsen the weekend before.

I added some festive balloons and inside and outside. Along with luminary bags with fake candles. The real ones blow out so much! I tried them.

Balloons aren’t necessary, but since we were having a party, I thought why not! I used this machine to blow them up, super easy to use! Just takes time.


Here are some traditional recipes directly from my mother-in-law to make for your altar. She is also making mole for dinner that night, which I didn’t get that recipe! Sorry 🙂

Atole (masa drink)
  • Sugar (she says add as much as you like!)
  • 2 cans of corn
  • 1/2 gallon milk
  • 1 can condensed
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 1/2 cup of water
  • 2-3 cinnamon sticks
  1. Boil 1 1/2 cup of water. Put 2-3 cinnamon sticks boil water. Remove cinnamon sticks. Let water cool down.
  2. Put 1 half gallon of milk low to medium heat.
  3. Meanwhile, strain 2 cans of corn. Blend with a little of the warm milk. Should easily blend the corn once the milk is added
  4. After blending corn, use strainer to remove any excess liquid.
  5. Add your corn mixture to the milk.
  6. Stir and put sugar as you like.
  7. In a glass, put 1 tablespoon of cornstarch and cold water (make it liquid consistency)
  8. Pour little by little into milk making sure you keep stirring or else it will clump. Serve hot.
Sugar skulls (they go directly onto the altar)
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 1 teaspoon water
  • Skull molds (she found some on Amazon or can be found at Walmart)

  1. Preheat over to 350 degrees. Mix 1 cup sugar and 1 tsp of water or just a little more so that it feels like your making sand castle.
  2. Pack sugar into skull mold, press firmly.
  3. To remove put small plate and invert.
  4. Transfer to cookie sheet with parchment paper.
  5. Bake for 10 min.
  6. Cool and decorate

There is also pan de muerto that you can also look up how to make as well. This goes directly onto the altar too! You can also find them at many bakeries too!

We hope these recipes and ideas inspire you to make your own Day of the Dead altar this weekend. If you make anything, tag me @thechicagogoodlife or if you want more Halloween hosting ideas, head here!


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