Celebrate Day of the Dead with a festive homemade necklace!
By Brenda Ponnay
Halloween isn’t the only holiday that gets to have fun with dancing skeletons. There is another holiday called Dia de Los Muertos (or Day of the Dead in English) that is all about honoring the dead. Many of us struggle with the concept of death and spend a lot of time being sad about it, but that’s not what this holiday is about. Dia de Los Muertos is a happy holiday. Families gather together to remember their loved ones who have passed, eat all their favorite foods, dance, and generally celebrate life and the afterlife.
It is quite popular to celebrate this holiday with dancing skeletons, marigolds and ofrendas (or altars) filled with pictures and mementos of the dearly-departed. For a kid-friendly take on this holiday we decided to make a pretty necklace out of salt-dough skull beads and bright orange tissue-paper marigolds. Both are quite easy and just a little bit silly.
To make the marigolds I used two different shades of orange tissue paper. I cut them into circles that were rough and irregular in shape. To make one flower you will need six circles. Make half of them small (1-2 inches) and the other half a little bit larger. Then with a piece of black twine and a needle I punctured the circles right in the center. I tied a knot on one side and left the other side with two pieces of twine hanging out. These two pieces I would later tie onto my necklace.
Then I crumpled the center circle up around my knot. That became the center bud of my flower. I crumpled the remaining circles up around that bud but looser so that they would gradually lay down like petals on a real marigold. Then I set them aside to make the salt-dough beads.
Making salt dough is really easy.
You will need the following ingredients to make the beads:
1/2 c. salt
1 c. of flour
1/2 c. of water
a cookie sheet
1. Preheat your oven to 250 F.
2. Mix the salt, flour and water together until the mixture is elastic and smooth. If dough is too sticky add flour; if it is too dry add water.
3. Pinch off small pieces and roll them into balls into the palm of your hand.
4. With beads or a toothpick make two small indentations for eyes.
5. Make some teeth by pushing the toothpick into the lower portions of the skull like so:
I pinched the bottom of the skull just a little to give it more of a human head shape, but this is optional. I let the kids make the skulls look any way they wanted.
Using the same toothpick, puncture a hole all the way through the skull from the side where the ears would be. This will be the hole that you will use later to thread the beads onto a necklace. Make sure you wiggle the toothpick around quite a bit so the holes are big. I found that many of the holes I made closed up during baking because I didn’t make them big enough. But you don’t want to make them too big so that they compromise the shape and sturdiness of your bead.
Place them on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake for two hours. I baked mine about 15 minutes short of two hours and I’m glad I did because I was able to poke some of my side holes through with a strong needle. If they had been baked completely, I wouldn’t have been able to do that.
While we were waiting for our beads to bake, we colored our ofrenda coloring sheets and talked about the different people we know who have died. Ofrenda is the Spanish word for “offering” but it has nothing to do with worship. They are simply careful works of art that pay tribute to a deceased loved one. Usually ofrendas are collages or a collection of pictures and things that remind you of the person who has passed on.
You can create your own ofrenda, or you can download a coloring sheet here. The big circle in the center is for a photo or a drawing of the person you are remembering. The two circles at the bottom are for drawing things that they liked, or things that remind you of them.
My daughter is only three, so the only person she knows who has died is the lady who used to work at our laundromat. We miss her. She was a sweet old lady. To remember her we drew a bottle of laundry detergent in one circle and a purse in the other. She loved purses and was always commenting on mine. I also made one for my grandmother and colored it pink, her favorite color.
When the beads are done baking and have cooled, you can go ahead and paint your skulls with a dab of black paint in the eye holes and some quick swishes of black on the teeth. We used a toothpick to paint the teeth but I’m sure a small paintbrush would work well too.
Then we covered them with a decoupage sealer (we used Mod Podge). When everything was dry we strung them onto our twine interspersed with some wooden beads that I bought at a craft store. Then we tied our marigold flowers on wherever we fancied and tied the ends together to make a necklace.
I think they turned out splendidly. Very festive and not somber at all.