Each Halloween there seems to be that one costume that everyone chooses. This year’s popular idea among the ladies was to be a Dia de los Muertos girl, or a sugar skull. If you’re not familiar with this look, girls and even guys paint their faces white and add black features so it will resemble a skull. From there it’s their choice as to how they want to decorate the rest of their face. Girls traditionally will add petals around their eyes and other floral features on their face. While this lifeless look is certainly a bit of a trend with Halloween, and even in fashion, it in fact has a rich history and culture tied to it.
This look is a part of the predominantly Mexican holiday of Dia de los Muertos, which when translated means “Day of the Dead.” The holiday dates back to Aztec times and is celebrated on Nov. 1 to honor the dead who have passed or, as National Geographic says, “so that the dead would not be insulted by mourning and sadness.” Although the look and even the name may make it sound as if it is a spooky holiday, that’s actually far from the truth. There are a variety of foods, drinks, parties and other activities that celebrants’ dead loved ones once enjoyed. The people who celebrate Dia de los Muertos view death as a natural part of life, just the same as birth and other stages of life.
Inside Mexico says that on the last few days of October it becomes evident that the holiday is right around the corner. Squares and streets begin to fill with stands, the markets are decorated with cempasúchil, an orange marigold that in the Aztec tradition is used to honor the dead. While this is available for purchase, many families choose to grow their own cempasúchil with the belief that is more appropriate since they put their own work, care, and love into growing these flowers.
In the earlier days of October many families are occupied with making Pan de Muerto, Day of the Dead bread. This bread looks like regular bread except for the fact that the baker designs pieces of dough on the top of it to look like skeleton bones and tears. The bread is then taken to the graveyard and left on the tombstone of the deceased loved one.
One of the biggest signs of Dia de los Muertos is the sugar skull. Sugar art was introduced to Mexico in the 17th century when Italian missionaries were in Mexico. Mexico had the ability to make sugar, but not enough money to import sugar decorations from other countries. Therefore, they learned how to make sheep and angels and various other religious figures all on their own. Eventually they made sugar art a part of Dia de los Muertos in the form of a skull. The skull is generally decorated to look like it is smiling. From there, the rest of the decoration on the skull depends on how the person wants to represent the one who passed. The skulls are then taken to their former home or to their grave site. Sadly, fabricated and imported sugar skulls are becoming more common than homemade sugar skulls.