The Sugar Skull is something most often seen in Mexico during the time of year known as Dia de Los Muertos or the Day of the Dead. Sugar is formed into the shape of a skull and decorated using bright colors. The skull is used as an offering to honor dead ancestors. The sugar skull is mainly edible except for some of the decorations used which are not always intended for consumption.
History of the Day of the Dead
Dia de Los Muertos dates to the time of Aztec civilization. It was important for the Aztecs to celebrate the lives of their ancestors. This celebration generally lasted for about a month. When the Spaniards invaded, they tried to end this holiday but had no success. The day later merged with the Catholic holiday of All Saints Day which is now celebrated on November 1st and 2nd.
Many people believe that on the Day of the Dead the spirits of children that have died can come back and spend time with their families for 24 hours. On the following day, the adults can come back from the dead to visit. Offerings such as sugar skulls are used to encourage these spirits to come and to allow the dead to know that their loved ones still care for them.
First Sugar Skulls
It was during this celebration that the first sugar skulls were used. The Reign Trading Company, which dates to the 17th century, was run by Italians who celebrated All Saints Day. The company had an office in Mexico, and the people of Mexico had very little money and no extra money for decorations. The Mexican people made it a point to learn from the Italians how to make decorations out of editable items that they could easily obtain, including sugar, as it was plentiful.
Making Sugar Skulls
Clay was also abundant in Mexico. People took the clay and made it into molds. They would harden the molds by setting them in the sun and allowing them to dry out completely. These molds were made into the shape of skills. A sugar mixture was then added to the skull and decorated. These skulls were then used to decorate the church as well the gravestones of ancestors. During this holiday the skulls were placed on altars as part of offerings to the dead. Each of the skulls made represented a specific person. The name of the person was often engraved on the forehead of the skull.
Part of the Celebration
The Day of the Dead is now celebrated on November 1st and 2nd. On the 1st, small, sugar skulls are decorated and used to represent children that have passed on. On November 2nd larger sugar skulls are used to represent the adults that have passed. These skulls are decorated on the forehead with various designs that are made with colorful icing. This is used to enhance the features of the skull. The designed are meant to be fun and are not designed to be scary or morbid in any way. Many people would describe these skulls as looking happy.
In addition to colored sugar and icing, there are other decorative touches that are added to the skulls. Feathers, beads, and colored foil are stuck to the skulls with icing as further decorative touches. Many people choose to make the skulls on their own. Some companies make and sell these skulls. They are small, and they are edible. Company-made sugar skulls are often more colorful and decorative than homemade skulls.
Sugar Skull Variations
There have been some great additions to sugar skulls over the years. In addition to being made from white sugar, these skulls are now being made from chocolate. The same amount of work goes into the chocolate skull as the sugar skull. Candy makers work four to six months preparing these skulls for the many festivals. They are still decorated with sugar. While these sugar skulls can be eaten, they are still used as offering for the dead.
Sugar skulls are a well-recognized symbol for the Day of the Dead, but their true meaning has often been unclear. With the information above, hopefully, their history and meaning can now be better understood.