Day of the Dead: A floral tribute

Flowers take centre-stage at this Mexican celebration

You may have noticed that flamboyant flower crowns and faces painted to look like intricately adorned skulls have become an increasingly popular look at Halloween parties over recent years.

Day of the dead flowers Copyright: Etsy
In case you don’t know, this beautifully ghoulish attire is the traditional dress associated with Día de los Muertos. Day of the Dead, as it’s known in English, is a Mexican holiday celebrated largely in central and south Mexico as well as Mexican communities all over the world. And flowers are at its heart.

Celebrating the deceased

The three-day fiesta, which takes place from 31 October – 2 November, coincides with the Christian holidays of All Hallow’s Eve (a.k.a. Halloween), All Saints Day and All Souls Day – and is traditionally a time when families gather to pray for and remember deceased friends and family members, and help them on their spiritual journey.

Those celebrating dress up by painting their faces to look like embellished skulls and wear huge, lavish and vibrant flower crowns. Families honour the deceased by visiting their graves and building private altars, which they fill with golden marigolds (the flower of the dead), sugar skulls (small confectionery skulls), muertos (sweet bread), tissue paper decorations, incense and memorabilia, to encourage visits by the souls.

The flowers

Flowers, seen as a symbol of the impermanence and fragility of life, play a huge role in the Day of the Dead celebrations. These are used in the beautiful flower crowns that have become synonymous with the celebration, as well as adorning altars and graves. Sometimes the petals of the flowers are also picked and used to make elaborate decorations, or placed on the floor in front of the altar to mark a path for the spirits to follow.

Cempasuchil (the Mexican or Aztec marigold) is the traditional flower of the dead. As well as emitting a heady scent, which is thought to attract the spirits and help them find their way, its vibrant orange and golden colours are said to represent the sun, which in Aztec mythology guides the spirits on their way to the underworld.

The velveteen-textured cockscomb, which is said to symbolise the blood of Christ, baby’s breath (gypsophila), white chrysanthemums, red gladioli, white amaryllis, and wild purple orchids, which are called “flowers of the souls”, are also traditional blooms associated with the event. But for the flower crowns, any large bloomed flowers in deep, vibrant hues, such as blood red roses, will work just as well.

Create your own flower crown

If you fancy creating your own Day of the Dead flower crown, the internet is full of online tutorials to help inspire and guide you.

One of our favourites is from New York-based Floral Designer Kalena Patton, who shows you how to create your own crown, inspired by the Mexican tradition but using blooms that are as practical as they are striking.

In an interview with US InStyle, she suggests using large statement flowers mixed with smaller blooms for added dimension, and recommends “hearty” and long-lasting blooms, such as roses, lisianthus, and orchids. “Anything that people would use in boutineers and corsages are similar flowers for flower crowns because they won’t wilt right away,” she says.

With Halloween in almost full swing, get into the spirit of it. Make your own flower crown or why not ty our DIY flower skull and share your creations with us on Twitter.