Marcela's Day of the Dead Party

At Marcela Valladolid's house, the most-lively gathering of the year is for the Day of the Dead.
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Photo By: Coral von Zumwalt ©Copyright 2015 Coral von Zumwalt

Photo By: Coral von Zumwalt ©Copyright 2015 Coral von Zumwalt

Photo By: Coral von Zumwalt ©Copyright 2015 Coral von Zumwalt

Photo By: Coral von Zumwalt ©Copyright 2015 Coral von Zumwalt

Photo By: Coral von Zumwalt ©Copyright 2015 Coral von Zumwalt

Photo By: Coral von Zumwalt ©Copyright 2015 Coral von Zumwalt

Photo By: Coral von Zumwalt ©Copyright 2015 Coral von Zumwalt

Photo By: Coral von Zumwalt ©Copyright 2015 Coral von Zumwalt

Photo By: Coral von Zumwalt ©Copyright 2015 Coral von Zumwalt

Photo By: Coral von Zumwalt ©Copyright 2015 Coral von Zumwalt

Photo By: Coral von Zumwalt ©Copyright 2015 Coral von Zumwalt

Photo By: Coral von Zumwalt ©Copyright 2015 Coral von Zumwalt

Photo By: Coral von Zumwalt ©Copyright 2015 Coral von Zumwalt

Photo By: Coral von Zumwalt ©Copyright 2015 Coral von Zumwalt

It's All About Tradition

"My whole life, I've wanted to have big gatherings that are about food and tradition," says Marcela, who has two sons, Fausto, 12, and David, 1, and a third child on the way. For her Day of the Dead party, she designs the menu around her mom's most-loved foods, including empanadas and popcorn, and Día de los Muertos classics such as Mexican hot chocolate. 

Photography by Coral Von Zumwalt

The Altar

Every year at the end of October, Marcela builds an elaborate altar in her Chula Vista, Calif., backyard and places Mountain Dew and a Big Hunk candy bar on it. It's her way of remembering her late mother, Maria, for the Day of the Dead — and despite the name of the Mexican holiday, it's not at all morbid or sad. "It's about celebrating life," The Kitchen co-host explains.

Face Paint

Children get their faces painted in traditional Day of the Dead designs.

Mexican Hot Chocolate

Mexican hot chocolate is a classic drink for the Day of the Dead.

Get the Recipe: Mexican Hot Chocolate

Dress-Up

In addition to painting their faces, Marcela's guests adorn their heads with flower crowns.

Picadillo Empanadas

Marcela's mother loved empanadas.

Get the Recipe: Picadillo Empanadas

Chipotle-Pecan Candied Popcorn

Plain popcorn gets a kick from chipotle chile powder.

Snack Time

Marcela's young guests snack on sweet popcorn.

Skull Candy

The iconiccalaveras — skulls that represent departed souls — are molded from sugar, then decorated by all the kids. "They make a mess, but they get so into it!" Marcela says. 

Cajeta Pineapple Empanadas

Cheese empanadas are sweetened with pineapple.

Get the Recipe: Cajeta Pineapple Empanadas

History Lesson

The tradition of honoring deceased family members and friends with festivals and altars began with the Aztecs at least 700 years ago. Typically, the festivities start on Nov. 1 and go on for two days, but Marcela kicks things off a day early with a big party that coincides with Halloween.

Family Friendly

"We want to entice those who have passed back for the night to celebrate," Marcela says, which explains why she puts out her mom's favorite soda and candy, along with her reading glasses, a Burberry handbag, dog figurines (to guide the spirits) and wine. "She's had a long journey — she gets to drink a little bit," Marcela says, laughing.

Sweet Treat

Skulls and skeletons are symbols of the holiday, too, but rather than being ghoulish, they're cheerful and sweet.

After the Party

After the party, Marcela keeps the altar up for a few extra days. "It's like my mom is the star of the show," she says. "It's a beautiful reminder of her each time I walk by."

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