Sugar Skulls and the Day of the Dead

October 31, 2014
sugar skulls

Paper Source has lots of sugar skull stuff.

Have you noticed that sugar skulls are everywhere this season? Calaveras de azucar (sugar skulls)  are part of the Mexican observance of the Day of the Dead, a three-day celebration.In fact, the entire Catholic world celebrates these holidays, including Italy, although I saw no sign of it when I was in Sicily earlier this month. Perhaps Italian retailers don’t feel the need to promote holidays months in advance as we do.

But back to this colorful holiday, Dia de los Muertos.

Here’s what happens:  On what we know as Halloween, Oct. 31, Mexican children make an altar, inviting the spirits of dead children to come back and visit.  That’s because it’s believed that the gates of heaven open at midnight, and children are allowed to return from the dead to visit their families for 24 hours.

A creative idea.

A creative idea.

The next day is All Saints Day, when adult spirits can come on down. Finally, Nov. 2 is All Souls Day, when Mexican families make cemetery visits to decorate family graves.  Traditional decorations include flowers,fruits, nuts, folk art such as cardboard skeletons and–sugar skull confections.

sugar skull fb2

Found this mask and tiny sugar skull clips at World Market last month.

We see the skulls in calendars and cards and artwork, but in countries that celebrate these holidays, the sugary skull-shaped confections are sold everywhere on the days and weeks leading up to Day of the Dead. Sometimes, they’re made at home and given as gifts, with the name of the recipient frosted on them. Oh, and the recipients can be living or the sweet skulls can be a way to memorialize the dead.  And they’re not scary at all–they’re meant to be happy visages.

sugar skulls

As a culture, we Americans have difficulty with death, but I think these traditional holidays are a wonderful way to not only remember those who have passed on to their next adventure, but a way to keep them in our lives.  Even if you’re not Catholic, it might be fun to make your own family ritual honoring the dead and use sugar skulls.


halloween selfie

Not trick or treating but I may answer the door tonight like this.

26 comments on “Sugar Skulls and the Day of the Dead
  1. I love this tradition! What a wonderful idea. We usually skip the whole thing. We don’t get trick or treaters because we don’t live in a huge subdivision and there is only one kid on our whole street and at ’12’ he’s deemed himself to grown up for such kiddy adventures. My kids are grown and my two grandchildren are in KY. It’s not one I ever liked really, but this one I could definitely get behind! What a lovely idea. There’s enough scariness in the world right now who needs anymore.

  2. It’s an interesting approach to honoring the dead. I love the colorfulness of them.

  3. Michelle says:

    Those are probably the happiest looking skulls I have ever seen

  4. Carolann says:

    I’ve been seeing the makeup trend in these skulls rise over the past few years too. There are so many YouTube vids with tutorials on how to paint these on your face. I think they are way awesome!

  5. I was familiar with the Day of the Dead but you really enlightened me. And I so agree with your comment about contemporary American society not comfortable with death. This seems to address the idea that young and old do die — but that the soul is eternal. And not forgotten.

  6. No matter what the tradition is I love the colors and masterful pieces of artwork. Lovely.

  7. I didn’t know anything about this tradition but I do now thanks to you Carol!

  8. Karen says:

    I had no idea what the whole sugar skull thing was all about, Carol–thanks for explaining it so well! And I agree: our culture has some very odd ideas about the meaning of death. I love the joyfulness implicit in the sugar skull tradition.

  9. I think Day of the Dead is a fascinating holiday, and I love all of the artwork and paraphernalia that goes along with it.

  10. Kimba says:

    Wonderful tradition of loving and remembering all the souls that have been in our lives. My son was born on All Saints Day, so I really love this tradition!

  11. Hey! How did you know what I was doing for my Halloween Costume tonight? Ever since we were in Oaxaca last month (which is known for it’s AMAZING Day of the Dead Celebration) we decided that’s what we were going to do. We have been invited to a party and both Thom and I are going with the Sugar Skull face…I’ll let you know how successful it was!!! ~Kathy

  12. Never heard of Sugar Skulls but I’m glad you introduced me to them, they’re so beautiful.

  13. Nora says:

    Definitely a much happier way to look at death!

  14. Well 12 years of Catholic school and I had no idea, except for they were days to go to church and pray for the dead.
    I like this idea better. Our community suddenly has a pretty large Mexican population so I have been seeing these skulls everywhere.
    I think that is a great way for you to answer the door:)

  15. Lana says:

    Our town has a very large hispanic population, and I’ve seen these at the cemetery here. Love your door answering mask!

  16. This was fascinating. Even though we live in Southern California where Day of the Dead is a big deal, I had no idea of the history and the meaning behind all of it. Thank you! And I’d love to see photos of the kids’ faces when you open the door wearing that mask.

  17. I am learning this tradition and must admit – I still have a lot to learn!

  18. bodynsoil says:

    I love that their belief is the death is the doorway to another life and not the end; to not fear death or the dead. Much healthier approach than be good or go to hell; how frightful.

  19. liv says:

    Wow. There are some catholics in my community but not a large Spanish population. How interesting!

  20. Isnt it interesting how fascinated everyone seems to be with the afterlife? I would love to read a compilation of everyone’s beliefs so I could compare them.

  21. I’m Catholic and prior to migrating to the US, I grew up not celebrating Halloween in the Philippines but observing All Saints’ and All Souls’ Day (Nov 1 & 2). It’s really not so much a time for scaring each other as it was a time for remembering the dead and being with close family. Those two days have always been big holidays (no work and school) over there and it’s also less expensive / much less commercialized than here, with all the spending on candies, costumes and decorations.

  22. Your photos of the sugar skulls are very cool, Carol! A very interesting tradition in Latin countries! Great Halloween post for #TheLeisureLink!

1 Pings/Trackbacks for "Sugar Skulls and the Day of the Dead"
  1. […] dead. I wrote about it –and the sugar skulls we see everywhere this time of year– in a blog post a couple years ago, right HERE. Just in case you want to know a little bit about it. You do, […]

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