Skip to content
Dia de los Muertos: Sweet Celebrations for Day of the Dead

Dia de los Muertos: Sweet Celebrations for Day of the Dead

We are proud to partner with fellow Vermonter & Hispanic cookie artist Xiomara Paulina Álvarez Vázquez Thompson to create designs using our cookie cutter shapes and our signature gel food coloring for Dia de los Muertos.

Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a massive holiday in Mexican culture, falling in the first week of November. While we often think of death as a mournful moment, this holiday offers a different perspective--the dead are celebrated with almost unbridled joy. It is a chance for family and friends to gather and share in their love and respect for those who have gone before them. It is an opportunity to embrace life and all of its happiness--to sing, dance, and to honor loved ones who have passed.

Many scholars believe that today's celebrations have their roots in the indigenous cultures of the Aztec, Toltec, and Nahua peoples. These cultures had a more fluid perception of life and death--death was a natural part of life, and a person's soul lived on in the spirit world after passing through this one. Dia de los Muertos marks a day where those spirits return to visit their loved ones, spend cherished time together, and indulge in some of their favorite earthly foods. This celebration is so important to Mexican culture that in 2008, it was added by UNESCO to the list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

So how is Dia de los Muertos celebrated? There are a few central themes and symbols associated with the holiday, and we've listed them below.


Central to Dia de los Muertos festivities are the altars , or ofrenda, made by the living for the dead. Placed in family homes, they serve as tangible gathering areas for the living and the dead. Each ofrenda is unique and is meant to offer respite and sustenance for spirit guests. These altars are typically decorated with marigolds, family photos, incense, and candles. Each item carries special significance. Marigolds are brightly colored and mark the path for the deceased to travel. Family photos represent cherished memories that the spirits want to revisit. Food and water are provided, encouraging the spirits to stay longer. Candles are often placed in the cardinal directions, one lit for each spirit.

Sugar skulls, or calavera de azúcar, are placed on the altar, each skull representing a loved one who has passed on. Their colorful embellishments and wide smiles represent happy moments shared between those who are in the spirit world and those who are still here on Earth.

Watch Paulina decorate a sugar skull cookie here:


Like all aspects of this holiday, the food eaten and offered is rich in symbolism. Paulina says, "We celebrate the day by putting up an altar with food they used to like because their spirits come down that day to "eat" --more like smell the food and spend time with us who are still on earth."

The altars are also often adorned with both savory and sweet dishes. A staple for ofrendas is pan muerto, a sweet bread whose lower part represents the body, with a round ball at the top representing the skull of the deceased. Two pieces of dough in the shape of a cross represent the bones of the dead.

Cookies for Dia de los Muertos A sugar cookie decorated by Paulina to look like pan muerto.


Dia de los Muertos is a time for friends and family to gather. Towns and cities in Mexico host massive parades and street festivals, with revelers bedecked in fancy dresses and sugar skull face paint. Families visit the graves of loved ones before enjoying a shared meal. With death being an extension of life, it is a time to bring those who have passed on back into focus, laughing over shared memories and cherishing special moments.

Other Symbols

There are countless symbols important to Dia de los Muertos. Many differ depending on region and local culture. Below are a few of the most popular symbols for the holiday.

La Catrina/Calavera Catrina

Calavera Catrina is one of the most iconic figures of Dia de los Muertos. First imagined around the turn of the century by artist Jose Guadalupe Posada, La Catrina was originally a satirical sketch poking fun at the Mexican president Porfirio Diaz's preoccupation with European bourgeoisie class. The Calavera Catrina sketch portrays a skeleton elegantly dressed in a gown and fanciful hat bedecked with flowers. Incidentally, Porforio Diaz's regime was toppled soon after this illustration was published, in the Mexican Revolution of 1911.

Later, artist Diego Rivera completed a mural of La Catrina in Mexico City--this version depicts the skeletal gendarme alongside her creator, Posada, and fellow Mexican artist (and Rivera's wife at the time), Frida Kahlo. This mural further popularized this image and cemented La Catrina as a symbol for Day of the Dead. Today, La Catrina exhibits her wide grin and fanciful frock in many forms--from the men and women with painted faces and formal dress who flock to Mexico City's streets on Dia de los Muertos, to in-home ofrendas featuring the skeletal lady as a link between this world and the next.

Cookies for Dia de los Muertos La Catrina is often depicted with a flower crown or hat bedecked with flowers.

Papel Picado

Papel picado, or pierced paper, are the colorful flags that adorn Mexican streets, cafes, and homes. You've likely seen them at your favorite taqueria. These paper flags with intricate cut-out designs are strung up on a line, and blow in the wind. They represent the ephemeral nature and fragility of life. Paulina says, "When it comes to Dia de los Muertos, the colors represent a lot of things in our culture but orange and black are apparently the only two colors the dead can see so that's why we use it quite a bit, along with the other colors that are bright." The papel picado provide colorful displays that delight both the living and the dead.


Alebrijes are another common symbol that isn't specific to Dia de los Muertos but is seen often at celebrations. These animal-like figures often mix the traits of different animals--a dog with wings, for example--and are ornately designed. Believed to be guides in the spirit world, they are said to accompany the dead to and from the land of the living and the land of the dead.

Watch Paulina decorate a cat alebrije cookie here:

Cookies for Dia de los Muertos

Watch Paulina decorate a dog alebrije cookie here:

Cookies for Dia de los Muertos


Interestingly, Dia de los Muertos celebrations coincide with the migration of bright orange and black monarch butterflies. These butterflies spend their summers in the north and migrate southward to the Sierra Madre mountains of Mexico during the winter. In many communities, butterflies symbolize ancestral souls returning to visit.

Watch Paulina decorate a butterfly cookie here:

Cookies for Dia de los Muertos

Dia de los Muertos is a massive celebration and encompasses much more than we can include in one article. Celebrations are also ever-evolving. It has origins in ancient indigenous cultures, but La Catrina is a symbol that was brought into the fold in more modern times. Even the contribution of modern monarch butterfly sanctuaries has impacted the celebrations and symbolism in certain communities. It is a holiday that celebrates the people and traditions that came before, but also looks to the present and future to find unequivocal joy.

We are thrilled to collaborate with fellow Vermonter and Hispanic cookie artist Paulina Thompson to share in the excitement for Dia de los Muertos celebrations. From cookie cutters to food coloring, there are endless ways to create your very own Dia de los Muertos dessert that will be loved by the living and the dead alike.

Your Cart

Your cart is currently empty