Party Kitsch

Happy anniversary!

My sister began a new tradition for her family last year - a Day of the Dead party.  Her wedding anniversary is in October, and she decided to "marry" her anniversary celebration with the Mexican Dia de los Muertos tradition.  An amateur artist and keen on home and interior design, as well as a wonderful cook and an impeccable party planner, she recognized the unique opportunity to create a wonderful festive affair that would satisfy her "until death do us part" theme as well as provide an event during which she could combine many of her passions.

I was able to attend this year, and when I arrived a few days before the party, everything was in full swing.  Living in Texas helped when shopping for an abundance of kitschy and authentic Day of the Dead objects, although from talking with my sister she explained that she had purchased many of the decorations over the internet.  This celebration from Mexico has been making inroads in the US over the last few years.  Symbols such as skeletons and skulls are much more commonplace all year long than in the past.  Not so long ago a skull was something reserved for Halloween or a biker tattoo.  Today little girls are wearing them as earrings and on cute pink t-shirts.

  • Skull Christmas ornaments at Target

    I have always had an aversion to skull/skeleton iconography-
    as if using those images for decoration was somehow disrespectful of the dead. I seem to have been freed from that worry once I understood and just went with the Dia de los Muertos celebration.

  • Skull masks on the front porch

    Some would take issue with what might be described as the hijacking of this sacred celebration by those of us who are not native to the culture. I, however, sincerely believe that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and why the hell not get creative while you are at it?

  • Objects on the party ofrenda

    A painting by my sister represents her family's beloved dogs and a skull that I painted when on vacay in Mexico sits atop books owned by friends and relatives who have passed.

The party ofrenda with tissue cutouts on the wall

Grandma's vase, fishing hat, and mache heart representing
"amor eterno"

Several elements in my sister's interpretation of this event really struck me as beautiful and thoughtful.  Granted, there was plenty kitschy decor, a photo booth and a frozen margarita machine.  But she also incorporated posessions of those who had passed and provided a place for guests to hang photos alongside those of our grandparents, father, and others.  On an alter of sorts, reminiscent of the traditional ofrendas, she displayed flowers in our grandmother's vase alongside a cat mache figure, mache heart with a picture of a skeleton couple, a fishing hat from a deceased relative, many candles, incense and skull figures, and a lovely watercolor of a young woman painted by family friend Anne Turner Beletic.

*Use menu at the top of the page to find more on the history of Day of the Dead.

  • Fruits and fresh flowers in bright colors complimented Mexican woven fabrics

  • An alter of sorts in the fireplace incorporated soothing colored paper flowers and other meditative iconography

Costume kitsch

Photo booth fun

Some guests arrived in costume with skull-painted faces, others wore various interpretations of festive Mexican/Halloween gear.  All the ladies were offered flowered pins for their hair at the door, and a bevy of girls who came for the "pre-party" to be with my niece decorated their faces with beautiful face tattoos including skeletal eye sockets, roses, various webbing and blood red hearts with flowers.  The girls cut the full face tattoos in half and using eye liner divided their faces down the middle into beautiful skeletons on one side and gorgeous girls on the other.

I wasn't sure what to wear to the party, so I bought a pretty pink sundress with a black lace cover-up on top.  I also had to have these burgundy, lace-up ankle boots.  However, unless I go with a tight little black dress, I tend to end up looking like a first grade teacher.  Hmm... ankle boots and a pink dress - yep - first grade teacher.  I went ahead and put a spiderweb tattoo on the side of my eye, a pink flower behind my ear, and let my sister be the sexy one in her fabulous wine colored velour dress.  It was her party after all.

The heart of the party

Halfway through the evening, party goers came together for a short ceremony headlined by my brother-in-law performing original songs, one among them entitled "Cloud of Witnesses."  Next, several guests read selections pertinent to the occasion.  I especially enjoyed the reading given by a friend's daughter in Spanish.  I didn't understand the text, but she was entrancing and adorable and it felt so right to be listening to an authentic Spanish speaker.

After this presentation we all got floating lanterns with rice paper covers which we decorated and set afloat in the swimming pool.  I drew pictures of our father, father-in-law, and grandmother and wrote comments assuring them that I had appreciated the lessons they had taught me in life. 

As this party was also meant to be a wedding anniversary celebration as well, there, of course, had to be a fabulous cake.  The Tre Leches three-tiered cake with amazing whipped cream frosting from a local bakery was supurb, and every last piece was eaten, which is often not the case with cake.

Sunroom leading to the pool area where we floated rice lanterns.

The food

Apple cider sangria

Although I did take advantage of the frozen margarita machine, several times, I also enjoyed several glasses of wine.  Mr brother-in-law described the wines for the evening as "anything with a skeleton on the label," which didn't necessarily equate with quality.  Not being a wine connoisseur however, I was perfectly content with the sweet rose' - skeletons or not.  At Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico, many beverages, alcoholic and other, are placed on the alters to help quench the thirst of the departed souls along their arduous way from the other side.  My sister had been experimenting with apple cider sangria all week.  One perk of throwing a party is taste testing before!  Other offerings included whisky and gin and tonics with plenty of limes.

We munched all evening on various finger foods including green olive and mozzarella ball skewers, chile rellenos made by simply baking quesa fresco in small multi-colored chiles, individual servings of truffle mac and cheese, serve-yourself Frito-chili with condiments, prosciutto-wrapped asparagus spears, and two kinds of local vegan-chicken tamales.  Skull sugar cookies decorated by the children, the tres leches cake, various nut combinations, and candy from a pinata rounded out the sweet and savory for the evening.

*Navigate to Kitchen Kitsch from the menu at the top of the page for recipes from the party.

Caramel party favors

Bags of homemade caramels were to be given as take-aways, but of course amidst all the revelry at the end of the party (mainly the dance party that ensued once my niece's playlist began), we forgot to hand them out.  My brother-in-law was not disappointed that the large basket of hand-wrapped caramels was left by the door, but since we had developed carpel tunnel wrapping those suckers and my sister had spent an hour and a half boiling the sugar mixture to perfection, she assured him that they would, at a later date, be delivered to the guests!

Party guests and our hostess

  • I soon found myself on the flight home, craving more of that mac and cheese and wearing a pair of awesome cowboy boots that I purchased at Cavenders off the 635 on the way to DFW airport.

  • I have a new appreciation for Dia de los Muertos, as well as margarita machines!

  • Want to have your own Day of the Dead party next year?
    Maybe you just want to try some of the fabulous food for the holidays. Find the recipes in Kitchen kitsch.