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Day of the Dead Skull

Day of the Dead Skull by Raul Aguilar

Step by step guide to make colourful skulls in ancient Mexican tradition.

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  • Date addedAdded: October 27, 2002
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Some finished examples

Some examples
Some examples

About the Day of the Dead holiday (Dia de los muertos)

The Day of the Dead and Halloween are celebrated around the same time of the year but they come from very different cultures. The traditions of the Day of the Dead are a syncretism of pre-Hispanic Mexican traditions and Catholic influences. The proximity in date came about because in the 9th Century, Pope Gregory IV established the feast of All hallows, or All Saint's Day to be celebrated on November the 1st. Many other cultures (like the Celts) had fall celebrations as well. The evening of October 31st, came to be known as the Eve of All Hallows and later Halloween.

By the thirteenth century, November 2nd was established in the Roman Catholic calendars as the feast of All Souls, a day to remember the dead with prayer. When the Spanish conquered Mexico in 1521, Catholicism was imposed to the native Mexicans and the Catholic feast of All Soul's Day merged with the ancient Indian rituals of death and became a unique and rich festival now known as El Dia de los Muertos. It is the belief that by divine grace, the souls of our ancestors are allowed to visit their living relatives on November the 2nd. An elaborate offering called an ofrenda (usually mistakenly referred to as a "Day of the Dead Altar") is created for them.

Papier mache skulls, little skeleton toys, incense, candles, water, lacy paper tissue banners and yellow marigolds usually decorate the ofrenda. Items that the person honored used to enjoy in life are also placed at the ofrenda, along with photos of the deceased and their favorite foods. This holiday is a paradox. It is deeply spiritual, and honors the belief that dying is a part of living, but it can also be irreverent and even humorous.

Skulls and skeletons, usually known as calaveras and calacas are playful, and are associated with celebration. Papier mache skulls are usually very colorful. They are decorated with flowers and other symbols of fertility. Curlicues and tear drops also decorate them, along with colored foil and glitter. Skulls are also created in sugar paste, and traditional Mexican names are written on top of them with icing. They are given to children as treats. Museums and other institutions often commission larger papier mache skeleton pieces. A famous family of papier mache creators is the Linares family from Mexico City.

"Ritual and El Dia de los Muertos": A day of the Dead Curriculum Handbook for Teachers. Prepared by the Education Department of The Mexican Museum of San Francisco.

The Skeleton at the Feast: The Day of the Dead in Mexico. Elizabeth Carmichael and Chloe Sayer. Published in co-operation with the British Museum Press and the University of Texas Press, Austin.

Final words...

If you have any questions, please me.
You can visit me at RaulAguilar.com.