Our family’s Dia de Muertos party and outdoor movie night


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Earlier this month we had a triple birthday party themed around the Disney movie, Coco, and the Mexican tradition of Dia de Muertos on which the movie is based. This October, our oldest son turned 5, our youngest son turned 1, and I turned 30. Goodness gracious, still can’t believe I’m 30. 😲 Since it was milestone birthdays for all of us, I knew I wanted to do something a little different this year.

We watched the Coco movie outdoors, set up an ofrenda, played on the swing set, and feasted on the best tacos and churros I’ve ever eaten. I hope you enjoy scrolling through the photos below that my friend, Alexis, captured.

Discovering Dia de Muertos

I’ve always loved Halloween. Not the super gory/scary kind of Halloween, but more of the harvest, fall, pumpkins, fun costume type stuff that goes along with Halloween. I have always heard of the Dia de Muertos (or “Day of the Dead”) tradition but admittingly, didn’t know much about it.

Enter Coco.

We watched this movie for the first time a few months ago when we got Disney Plus and I fell. in. love. The colors, the music, the celebrations! It’s a fantastic movie and does a great job of introducing lay people, like me, to this wonderful Mexican tradition.

In essence, Dia de Muertos is a Mexican tradition celebrated October 31 – November 2 where people honor the lives of their deceased family members. Different areas celebrate in different ways but overall, the tone is very celebratory and festive.

The familial aspect of honoring one’s ancestors is very poignant and worthy to me. I love that the Mexican people have an entire holiday dedicated to it and I especially love that it’s not a depressing holiday. At least, it doesn’t appear that way to me from the outside looking in. It would makes sense that a holiday honoring the dead would be very solemn and lifeless but from what I’ve read and what’s depicted in Coco, it seems very colorful, vibrant, and festive. And I very much identify with that idea of celebrating life rather than mourning death.

Celebrating a non-native holiday respectfully

I was a little hesitant to throw a party with a “theme” based around a holiday that was not native to me. I wanted to be conscious of showing the holiday and the Mexican culture the respect they deserve. I did some research and read up on the holiday traditions and tried to honor them in their true nature and not in a kitschy, commercialized, or stereotypical way. I’m sure it wasn’t perfect, but I made a conscious effort to show respect while celebrating.

Host etiquette

Another aspect of etiquette that the party brought about was being a polite host.  A few days before the party, I had a “conversation” with my 5-year-old son about being a polite host for his guests. I guess you can call it a conversation, I did most of the talking. But you can watch 3 minutes of that talk here. I was trying to make him aware of greeting people, being intentional when saying goodbye to guests, and being grateful for any gifts he may receive.

I hope you enjoy scrolling through these photos. Maybe you can glean some inspo for hosting your next party!

digital video invitation for dia de muertos birthday party
I didn’t have time to mail invitations so I created a digital invitation in Canva that I texted out to our friends.
ofrenda for dia de muertos party
When I framed these photos of our grandparents and great-grandparents to display at our wedding, I never thought I would use them to create an ofrenda. In the Dia de Muertos holiday, ofrendas are home altars dedicated to honoring deceased ancestors.
dia de muertos marigold flowers
Marigolds are seen throughout the movie, Coco, and are a big part of the Dia de Muertos holiday. The bright color and fragrant smell are believed to guide ancestors’ spirits to the ofrendas in their family members’ homes. I was so excited to find my friend, Sybil (Yeopim Flowers), had some growing on her local flower farm! I’ve been told by a friend that these flowers get more and more difficult to find the closer it is to the actual holiday.
dia de muertos and coco family costumes
Our oldest son, Bear, wasn’t loving taking pictures but really did enjoy wearing a red jacket like Miguel does in the movie (plus, hellooo, easiest costume EVER!) And River was a super snuggly avocado. 😆
dia de muertos family costume
Kinda hoping my husband starts wearing this shirt on the regular… 😍🔥 And my dress was so comfortable!
dia de muertos party sign in book
I found this really sweet children’s book that is based on the movie, Coco. The inside front cover made the perfect guest book. We put it on a table by the entrance… riiiiight beside the hand sanitizer.
dia de muertos birthday photo display
Birthday boys and girl!
dia de muertos party
The kids got some quality swing set time in before the movie.
Another thing I discovered I love about Dia de Muertos is that people paint their faces to look like decorative skulls. After watching several makeup tutorials to try to attempt designs myself, I ended up buying these tattoos from Amazon and they were SO fun. We brought them outside and some of the guests put them on too. The flower crowns were another fun thing to wear.
dia de muertos party boys with glow sticks
I highly recommend glow sticks for any night party. At $10 for 100, they’re a great bang for your buck. I keep some around all the time.
dia de muertos party fiesta or fireside sign
Margaritas to the left. Hot chocolate and cider to the right.
dia de muertos party decor papel picado
This banner in the background is a type of decoration called papel picado or “pecked/perforated paper”. These that I hung outside are made of plastic, but I also used some of the more traditional and more delicate paper ones inside the barn. They are a traditional Mexican folkart and some of the most authentic ones are crafted by hand!
dia de muertos party taco bar
There’s no way a photo could do this food justice. I was originally looking for a taco truck to cater. But the taco bar, homemade salsa, chips, fresh guac, and cinnamon churros that the “Y’all Eat Yet?” food truck folks set up for us was Aaaamazing.
dia de muertos party outdoor fire pit
It was probably a little too warm for a fire pit but the fall lover in me said ‘Sydney, DO IT.’
dia de muertos outdoor movie coco
The highlight of the night was watching the movie Coco together. I used an Epson projector I bought a few years ago and Lee tacked up a white plastic Dollar General tablecloth to the side of our tool shed. I purchased multiple tablecloths thinking I would have to add multiple layers, but I was honestly surprised how well it worked with just the one. My dad and cousin supplied the bales of straw from our family farm.
cake with sugar skull for dia de muertos party
Ornately decorated skulls are a prominent decoration during Dia de Muertos.
Five year old boy at birthday party
Our chocolate-loving 5-year-old requested a chocolate cake and Mel’s Sweet Treats nailed it.
dia de muertos flowers and maracas
If y’all only knew what kind of miracle magic my mama had to work to get Penny in this dress… the girl loves a t-shirt and shorts.
dia de muertos party pumpkins
My husband, Lee, grew some sweet little orange and white pumpkins this year that we shared with our friends before they left.
dia de muertos birthday party
Baby toes! 😍

Growing up on a farm and working alongside a lot of Mexican people through the years, I’ve always been interested in their culture. I feel like this one little movie gave me so much more insight into this tradition and gave me another way to connect with my friends. I’ve since enjoyed hearing stories from my Hispanic friends about the way they celebrate Dia de Muertos in their own families.

I encourage you to take a few minutes to read up on the Dia de Muertos holiday. There are so many cool and thoughtful traditions sprinkled in the celebrations. And definitely go watch Coco this week!



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