Dia de los Muertos, the Mexican holiday to honor the souls of the departed, is beloved for its macabre but festive decorations. But the ornate skulls, altars and folk art animals come from the humblest of materials: Day of the Dead decorations are traditionally just made from paper, flour and water, which combine to create paper-mache.


Hundreds of fantastic mythical surreal paper mache creations called “alebrijes” filled the central plaza in Mexico City. (William Booth/The Washignton Post)

Some of the most magnificent paper-mache sculptures are created for a parade hosted by the Museum of Popular Art in Mexico City, which displays the magical beasts called “alebrijes” on the Paseo de Reforma, the city’s grandest boulevard. William Booth describes the Dia de los Muertos celebrations in Mexico:

Some of the creatures look like escapees from the H.G. Wells science-fiction classic, “The Island of Doctor Moreau” — such as an octopus lizard pig with talons and a whale’s tail; or a fever dream of Salvador Dali meeting the Cat in the Hat, painted in the bright swirling blues and scaled greens of Mexico’s southern state of Oaxaca, where the folk art form was born.

Paper-mache sculpture is a traditional part of Dia de los Muertos, and skulls, alebrijes, and ornate altars can be seen in celebrations from Brazil to California. If you want to attempt to make your own, check out this video tutorial on paper-mache here, or take inspiration from some of these examples of the art:


Alebrijes in Mexico City. (William Booth/The Washington Post)

Alebrijes in Mexico City. (William Booth/The Washington Post)

A young reveller takes part in a parade called "La Calabiuza" in Tonacatepeque, north of San Salvador. (Oscar Rivera/AFP/Getty Images)

Fake skulls sit next to fake graves as a Day of the Dead offering at Mexico's National Autonomous University in Mexico City. (Marco Ugarte/AP)

People take pictures with a sculpture of skulls and a skeleton as part of the Day of the Dead celebrations at Mexico's National Autonomous University in Mexico City. (Marco Ugarte/AP)