As Halloween is coming up and sugar skulls are becoming very popular I thought I would discuss what the Day of the Dead is.
Sugar skulls are a source of huge inspiration for me and I use the imagery in my jewellery making. My previous post Pain Distraction – Resin Skull Pendant Project is an example of how you can use this inspiration to make necklaces and keychains.
I have included a free downloadable printable sugar skull at the end of this article that you can download and colour in.
The Day of the Dead
The Day of the Dead, or Dia de Los Muertos, is a Mexican festival that takes place on 1st November to 2nd November, All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day in the Catholic calendar. The 1st November is often referred to as Dia de Los Inocentes (Day of the Innocents) and 2nd November is generally referred to as Dia de Los Muertos.
Although in modern times it has become associated with Halloween, the two celebrations are different in tone. Halloween is about the dark, ghouls and mischief, whereas the Day of the Dead is about colour and celebrating life. Death is a major theme of the festival but rather than people fearing the dead, this festival is about showing love and respect for the deceased. People hold parties, dress-up, sing and give offerings to lost family members.
The Day of the Dead has its origins in the Aztec, Toltec and Nahua people who thought it was disrespectful to mourn the dead. Indeed, in these cultures, the dead were very much still part of the community, and, like the Day of the Dead festival, they believed that their lost loved ones returned to the land of the living temporarily. In fact, the Aztecs had a goddess of earth and death, called Coatlicue, who wore a necklace of human hearts, hands and a skull pendant. Todays Day of the Dead festival has drawn ideas from these beliefs along with those of the Catholic feasts, All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day.
Altars are placed in the homes of the living and are laden with offerings for dead – such as water, bread and a candle for each dead soul – to welcome them back to the land of the living. To make sure the souls of the dead can find their way back to their burial place, a trail of marigold petals is laid from the altar to the grave, a symbolic thread to be followed.
Perhaps the most well-known symbol of the Day of the Dead is the skull or Calavera. In the early Twentieth Century, a famous printmaker and lithographer, Jose Guadalupe Posada, made an etching known as La Calavera Catrina (translated as Elegant Skull), a depiction of a female skeleton wearing only a hat. She was Posada’s way of poking fun at Mexicans whom he saw as trying to emulate traditions of European aristocratic elites. She has become a symbol of the Day of the Dead Festival, especially in the costumes that revellers wear.
Skulls are also used in the sugar skull tradition. Sugar skulls are made from cane sugar and are decorated with icing, beads and feathers. When they are offerings for the dead, the name of the deceased is often written in foil on the skull’s forehead. Other items given to the dead include Pan de Muerto, the Bread of the Dead, pulque, a sweet fermented beverage, atole, a thin porridge and hot chocolate. Perhaps the most iconic image of the festival is the sugar skull with its vivid colours and its unique look which is beautiful and not a little bit ghoulish or scary. They certainly inspire me. They’re so beautiful and I think it’s a shame to just bring them out once a year.
My house has so many skulls. Not all are sugar skulls. My favourite is Frank and he has a very important job to do; holding my headphones. He is a modern interpretation of a sugar skull that I picked up at a local store. I saw him and I was in love!
Free Downloadable Printout of a Sugar Skull to colour in:
With thanks to Ardelfin at morguefile.com for the Day of the Dead image.