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Food and Drinks for Day of the Dead 

Sugar skulls, bread of the dead, and other food set out for day of the dead

Food and drink play very important roles in Day of the Dead festivities. They are ofrendas, or offerings, placed on the altars to persuade loved ones to come back and visit the land of the living.

Entrees like chicken mole and tamales are offered because they are among our ancestors’ favorite meals. Similarly, beverages – including horchata and champurrado – are seen, too. Bottles of tequila are also frequently offered to toast the arrival of loved ones.

To further honor our ancestors, we eat and drink along with them, joyously celebrating and commemorating the lives they lived. 

glass of horchata, a Mexican rice milk drink


Horchata is a traditional beverage whose origins can be traced at least as far back as 13th-century Valencia. While historically it has been made with a variety of plants, in Mexico today it is made with rice, is sweetened, and served chilled.

To help you begin your Day of the Dead celebration, Berenice Garcia-Tellez walks you through an easy horchata recipe that your whole family will enjoy:


If you'd prefer a written horchata recipe, Berenice shared one of those, too!

champurrado, a chocolate drink, served in a clay mug


Especially if you're celebrating Day of the Dead in Colorado, the weather can be hard to predict. If the night turns chilly, a hot drink will likely be much more inviting to your guests, living and deceased. Champurrado is not only served hot, it is also chocolate-flavored and easy to prepare.

A plate of chicken covered in dark mole sauce.

Easy Chicken Mole

Mole is a rich and spicy sauce that comes in many varieties. While both Oaxaca and Puebla claim to be the birthplace of mole, today's mole is created with ingredients from around the world. This mole recipe relies on an off-the-shelf red mole (or mole poblano spice paste) cooked with a few extra ingredients, served with shredded chicken and sesame seeds. 

capirotada, a Mexican dish similar to bread pudding


Capirotada is Mexican bread pudding. Its origins can be traced back to 15th-century Spain, where it likely was conceived as a means to soften stale bread. This capirotada recipe features layers of nuts, cheese, dried fruit, and bread drizzled with cinnamon-infused sugar syrup.

pan de los muertos, or bread of the dead

Pan de los Muertos

Pan de los muertos (bread of the dead) is a Mexican sweet bread that comes in many regional varieties with different flavors, shapes, and sizes. Little bits of dough are shaped into balls and rolls and placed on top of the bread to represent bones. This pan de los muertos recipe is baked in the weeks leading up to Día de los Muertos. While it can be eaten as a treat, it is more often placed on an altar for departed loved ones to enjoy.

a field of pumpkins right before sunset

Dulce de Calabaza

Fall is the season of the pumpkin, and dulce de calabaza is traditional pumpkin candy. While it can be made with the orange pumpkin common in North America, it is more typically made with squash, particularly winter squash or Castilla squash. Use whichever you prefer in this dulce de calabza recipe.

A sugar skull on a day of the dead altar

Sugar Skulls

Sugar skulls are a decorative candy art in Mexico. You can buy them in Mexican markets and bakeries in late October. They are given as sweet treats or used to decorate altars and graves. This sugar skulls recipe is provided courtesy of the Front Range Community College Latinx Club.

Further Exploration

Visit Day of the Dead Resources to find all of these recipes collected in one .PDF booklet. Plus we share links to library books for kids and adults, downloadable/printable resources, and additional websites to help you dig deeper into the origins and history of this magical celebration.