Last week my family got together to decorate sugar skulls, or calaveras, for the Mexican holiday, Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. Now, my family is not Mexican, but being in the West, we see and hear a lot about this holiday. My sister even has her house decorated in calaveras and skeletons that she has collected from her various trips to New Mexico.
Dia de los Muertos is a two day celebration on November 1-2 to remember the people in your life that have died. It is not related to Halloween at all, except like Halloween, it was a traditional holiday that, at some point in history, the catholic church moved the dates of the holiday to coincide with All Saints Day and All Souls Day. Despite that, Day of the Dead still remains rooted in its original Oaxaca-indian traditions, and is a pretty unique celebration.
Day of the Dead is a festive time to remember lost family members. Families get together to celebrate their loved ones lives by eating the favorite foods of the family members that have died. In Mexico, it’s tradition to build an oferenda or altar, for your deceased family member and fill it with pan de muertos (the bread of the dead), which is a sweet bread, tequila, marigold flowers and sugar skulls.
The skulls are meant to represent the individuals that have died, as well as living family members. The skulls are completely edible, being made of sugar and royal icing, but all but the smallest skulls are generally not eaten. They also make smaller chocolate skulls to eat. Some people believe that by eating the skulls, you are eating, and therefore thwarting, your own death. The sugar skulls are meant to last for years (and can, if well taken care of).
Because my sister loves these traditions and the folk art surrounding this holiday, last year I ordered special sugar skull molds and we made skulls to decorate. But, we also really love Halloween and Henry’s birthday is on November 1st, so we didn’t manage to get time to decorate our skulls last year. So I packed them away until last week when we could all get together and decorate them.
We had such a fun time decorating our skulls. Hopefully no one is offended that we took so much joy in making the skulls, although they weren’t made to represent anyone specific. We aren’t celebrating the holiday properly at all. Mostly we just were having fun with the skulls themselves, although I do plan to invite my sister to go up to where we spread our dad’s ashes for a lunch and some peanut butter cookies (his favorite). But mainly it was a fun family craft time for us.
I made my sister some sugar skull cocktail napkins and got us matching skeleton aprons. And that led me to finally cross off one of my 101 in 1001 goals – opening an Etsy shop. I don’t know how successful my shop will be. It’s pretty simple stuff that I’ve made – I feel like most anyone could make them. But I figured it was worth a try, and I enjoy the projects I’ve listed so far. Check it out if you are so inclined. There is a set of sugar skull cocktail napkins listed in case you want a set of your own, as well as one of the skulls I made.