Sugar skulls and the Mexican Day of the Dead

Over the last 5- 10 years, the Mexican Sugar Skull has become incredibly popular in Western Culture, especially in tattoos.

But what exactly is it? Where does the image come from, and why are the Mexicans so morbid?

The Day of the Dead

La Dia de los Muertos is celebrated from midnight on the 31st of October through to the 2nd November. Much like Western Halloween celebrations, there tradition includes lots of festivities and costumes.

November 1st is traditionally referred to as Dia de los Angelitos (Day of the Little Angels) in Mexico and is the day to honour infants and children who have died.

November 2nd is the actual Dia de los Muertos when families honour adults whom they have lost. It is believed that on these days, the souls of the deceased return to earth to be with their families and loved ones.

Sugar Skulls

The Calaveras, or skulls, are a tradition which goes back to Aztec, Mayan, and Toltec cultures. They are created either for children or as offerings to be placed on the graves of the deceased.

Traditionally made from sugar, hence sugar skulls, the calaveras are decorated with flowers, feathers, patterns, and names, making them symbols of life rather than the morbid symbols of death we associate skulls with in Western Countries.

The decorations of the skulls has evolved into face-painting for people during the festival, and this in turn has become a huge part of Mexican iconography.

Now you can find everything from tea-towels to bedsheets with a Day of the Dead motif, but tattoos are especially popular.

Calavera Tattoos

The rise of the skull tattoo in recent times has been pretty rapid and global. The tattoos themselves come in all shapes and sizes, and range from the colourful candied skulls to the rather goth cadaverous all-black.

The skull is almost always a woman, a tradition that stems from the original rituals that centred on a Mexican goddess and Spanish saints.

Mexican Skull tattoos range from the Traditional style to photo-realistic versions, but if you’re thinking of getting one, beware that some self-righteous middle-aged, middle-class white people might get offended and start screaming cultural appropriation.

Choose a sugar skull to celebrate Mexican culture or to commorate a loved one. The distinctive images serve as reminders of the fragile boundaries between life and death and the human impulse to ritualize and revel in both loves and losses.

Death and loss is something we all have to experience.