6 Customary Day of the Dead Colors & Their Meanings

Published January 25, 2021
Orange and purple colors of Day of the Dead celebration

Day of the Dead colors are specific to the holiday. The meanings of traditional colors used during the Day of the Dead for altars, gravesites, and crowns can guide you in your color choices.

6 Traditional Day of the Dead Colors

You may want to use colors with specific meanings for your altar. You may choose to go with different colors for a loved one's gravesite or crown based on what each color means. For example, you may want colors for your altar to signify your faith, while you may have a mix of flowers that mean grief and love for a gravesite.

1. Yellow

Yellow is a color symbol of death for a Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos) observance. Yellow marigolds (cempasúchil, also spelled cempazúchitl) are a mainstay flower for Day of the Dead altars, gravesites, and crowns.

Yellow paper cutouts in shape of skulls for Day of the Dead celebration

The multiple petals of each marigold bloom make it easy to detach from the flower head and scatter about to create a pathway for the dead to the altar you create.

2. Orange

The color orange is the symbol of the sun. You use orange marigolds in your altar decorations. You can add orange marigold petals to your yellow pathway. The golden orange pathway is symbolic of holy light or sunlight providing a temporary entrance into the world of the living. The spirits are attracted to the color and the aroma of the flowers. When they accept your invitation to follow the path to your altar, they are able to rejoin you for a day of feast and celebration.

Orange flowers and candles decorate gravesites

3. Red

The color red is also used profusely in the Day of the Dead celebration. It is a symbol of blood, or more specifically, the blood of Christ. Over the centuries, the Christian belief system has been intricately interwoven with that of the original Aztec Day of the Dead. The celebration for honoring deceased loved ones features the symbolism of Christ's blood shed for the sins of the world and his triumph over death. Red flowers are prolific in decorations for gravesites and crowns, as well as altars. They are a reminder of the promise of life eternal through Jesus Christ.

Day of the Dead rose crown

4. Purple

The color purple is traditionally the color of royalty. It has a more unsettling meaning when used during a Day of the Dead celebration. Purple signifies the suffering that comes with the loss of a loved one. It is the color of grief and painful mourning. Purple flowers and purple cobs of corn are often used to decorate gravesites. You may decide to place purple flowers in your flower crown, or add ribbon streamers to decorate your crown.

Purple cobs of corn for Day of the Dead celebration

5. Pink

The Day of the Dead is more than just remembering loved ones who have passed; it is also a day of celebration. The color pink is used to demonstrate the joy you feel whenever you think of your loved one's life and how much they meant to you. You can use pink on your altar and pink flowers woven into your floral crown.

Day of the Dead costume in pink

6. White

White is the color of purity. It is also a symbolic color of hope. You can use white as the main color for your altar, where you'll offer prayers for your deceased loved one(s). You may scatter white flowers and flower petals on the ground to create a pathway for the spirit(s) of the dead to find their way to your altar and share the sacred day with you. White flowers are also used to decorate gravesites and wear in floral crowns.

Mon putting white makeup on daughter's face for Day of the Dead costume.

Day of the Dead Colorful Decorations

You can create beautiful decorations using colorful faux or real flowers. Some of the popular decorations for altars and gravesites are crosses, arches placed over the altar or headstone, and garlands of flowers with greenery.

Paper Flags

Solid colored paper flags are used to decorate altars and gravesites. The paper flags are created by cutting out elaborate designs. This is known as papel picado and is a form of Mexican folk art. These designs often feature birds, skeletons, and various flowers.

Day of the Dead paper cutout flags

Colorful Sugar Skulls

Highly decorative colorful sugar skulls are created and used for decorations for altars and gravesites, along with other offerings (ofrendas). On November 1, small decorative sugar skulls are placed on the altar with the other offerings as symbols of deceased children. These tiny skulls are replaced on the following day with large sugar skulls. The name of the deceased is written across the skull's forehead.

Sugar skulls for Day of the Dead celebrations

The elaborate designs are often augmented by gluing beads, feathers, and sparkling faux jewels onto the skulls. While the skulls are technically edible, they are used for decoration. Those celebrating often purchase or make smaller edible skulls to eat with other celebratory food dishes. All kinds of jewelry and clothing are available with these colorful skulls.

Burning of Candles

Lots of candles are lit to burn on altars, gravesites, and lining the pathway. A simple white candle is usually the choice, but you can use one or more of the six customary Day of the Dead colors for your candle choices.

Day of the Dead Colors

It is helpful to know the six customary Day of the Dead colors. You can choose the colors you wish to use when you understand the meaning of each.

6 Customary Day of the Dead Colors & Their Meanings