Floral Sugar Skull Face Mask
Día de Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a holiday I’ve witnessed and lived my entire life. At first, it was only a day off elementary school, and either the previous day or the next one, there would be a school festival where we would read our “literary calaveras”: satirical poems in which the author writes about Death coming to the world of the living to take someone to the land of the dead. Each classroom would make an altar or “ofrenda” for a Mexican celebrity, with everyone contributing the different elements it contains, and then the altars would be displayed outside each classroom to commemorate all the people who had contributed to our culture in one way or another.
As the years went by, some parts of the celebration remained (such as the making of an altar for a Mexican or Latin American celebrity), while some others were taken away (it eventually stopped being a day off school) and some others were added. When I grew older, we started going to the cemetery each November 2nd—the day we celebrate Día de Muertos in my hometown—or the following Saturday to spend some quality family time gathered around the tombstones of relatives who had passed on. It was here that I started noticing the small sugar skulls some people would lay on the tombstones of their loved ones.
Floral Sugar Skull Face Mask
Sugar skulls are an incredibly important part of an altar, but I found it strange that, of all the decorations we put up in an ofrenda, the sugar skulls were the ones that people took to the cemetery, too. I figured it was the easiest one to carry and also the one that lasts the most in the elements. I didn’t think too much of it, and it wasn’t until years later that I took a moment to question this fact that had been part of my life for such a long time.
I was in college in Mexico City, and to get to school, I always had to walk by these vendor stands on my way to the subway. Soon enough, I started noticing some of these vendors start putting out sugar (and chocolate) skulls of all sizes on their displays: from skulls so small that I could carry at least five of them in my hand, to skulls so big that they were encased in plastic transparent boxes to facilitate carrying them. My first thought was that Día de Muertos was right around the corner, and my second thought was that I could buy some sugar and chocolate skulls to take to my aunt, whom I was going to visit during the weekend before Día de Muertos.
Seeing these sugar skulls displayed throughout all the vendor stands in the city made me pause for a moment. Throughout school, I had been taught of the meanings of the various offerings in a Day of the Dead altar. I knew why we put up Papel Picado, why we made a trail of petals of cempasúchil flowers (also known as Mexican marigolds), why we would add the favorite foods and drinks of the people the altar was made for, but the sugar skulls always seemed only decoration to me. As I mentioned before, I had never stopped to think about why they were such an indispensable element of an ofrenda. It seems a bit morbid to display skulls in an altar, even if those skulls are small, made of sugar, and edible, as well as quite tasty! Why would the offerings in an altar include these sugar skulls?