Living in California, I was never exactly oblivious to Dia de los Muertos celebrations.
But am I imagining it, or are sugar skulls becoming… well… bigger? Within the past few years, I’ve noticed more and more images of women (and some men) with faces painted like skulls. So I thought I’d do some research. What do these strangely seductive skulls mean?
1) November 1st is the Dia de Los Muertos: It’s believed that the gates of heaven open at midnight on October 31st, and the spirits of departed children are allowed to return to their families on November 1st. On November 2nd, adult spirits can share in the festivities.
2) A 3,500 Year Old Tradition: The Aztecs had a month-long celebration honoring those who’d died, welcoming the spirits back to the earth for a visit. Skulls were often displayed as a part of the festivities. Today’s Day of the Dead represents a mixture of Catholic and indigenous beliefs, and skulls are a colorful part of Day of the Dead symbolism.
3) Sugar skulls are made of… you guessed it: sugar. Italian missionaries brought sugar art to Mexico – a natural fit since Mexico is a sugar-producing country – in the 17th century. From the Italians, Mexicans learned the art of molding sugar into angels, skulls, and other religious imagery.
4) Sugar art was a part of All Saints Day (November 1st) in Europe dating back to the 12th century. But Mexico has certainly made the art its own.
5) Sugar skull face painting is somewhat newish (I wasn’t imagining the uptick). Skull painting is derived from the custom of wearing skull masks during this holiday.
About the Author
Kirsten Weiss is the author of Steam and Sensibility, a steampunk novel of suspense, and the Riga Hayworth series of paranormal mysteries: the urban fantasy, The Metaphysical Detective, The Alchemical Detective, The Shamanic Detective, The Infernal Detective and The Elemental Detective. Watch for book six in the series, The Hoodoo Detective, available this Halloween.