Paint Your Own ‘Sugar Skull’ for Dia de Los Muertos [VIDEO]

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The Mexican celebration beginning on October 31 is called El Dia de Los Muertos (the Day of the Dead), and runs parallel to the American celebration of Halloween and the Catholic celebration of All Saints’ Eve. In Mexican culture, it is believed that the spirits of the dead visit their families on October 31 and leave on November 2, which is the day after the Catholic holiday of All Saints’ Day, known as All Souls’ Day.

El Dia de Los Muertos is a day to celebrate, remember and prepare special foods in honor of those who have departed. On this day in Mexico and parts of the southwestern United States, the streets near the cemeteries are filled with decorations of “papel picado” (perforated paper with colorful designs), flowers, candy ‘calaveras’ (skeletons and skulls), and parades.

In preparation, the families with deceased loved ones make altars and place “ofrendas” (offerings) of food such as pan de muertos baked in shapes of skulls and figures, candles, incense, yellow marigolds known as cempazuchitl, and most importantly, a photo of the departed soul is placed on the altar. Children carrying yellow marigolds enjoy the processions to the cemetery. At the cemetery, music is played and dances are made to honor the spirits.

The celebration might sound morbid, but the Mexican culture reacts to death with mourning – along with happiness and joy. They see death with the same fear as any other culture, but there is a big difference. They deflect their fear by mocking and living alongside death.

Mexicans have learned to accept death within their lives – it is a part of living. Death is apparent in everyday life. It is in art and even in children’s toys. It is not respected as it is in other cultures. Children play “funeral” with toys that are made to represent coffins and undertakers. They laugh and mock death because it is something imminent. There are refrains, sayings, and poems that are popular with day of the dead. These sayings are clichés and tend to lose meaning when translated. For example “La muerte es flaca y no puede conmigo” means “Death is skinny/weak and she can’t carry me.”

Calaveras (skulls) are decorated with bright colors with the name of the departed inscribed on the head. These skulls are most often decorative or edible skulls made (usually by hand) from either sugar or clay. Face-painting the sugar skull has also become very popular. For Halloween, many women dress in costume and create beautiful, unique sugar skull face paint masks. Learn how to paint yours for Halloween or for El Dia de Los Muertos!