Day of the Dead
The Day of the Dead (or Dia De Muertos) is a traditional holiday observed throughout Mexico celebrated October 31st to November 2nd. The holiday focuses on the gathering of family and friends for the purpose of remembering family members who have died. This practice is supposed to help the deceased on their spiritual journeys, as well as the living with healing emotionally. Historians trace the origins of the holiday back hundreds of years to an Aztec festival dedicated to the goddess Mictecacihuatl, the goddess of the underworld. Her role as a goddess is to watch over the bones of the dead as well as over the festivals of the dead. Though death is usually a sad and grim event, celebrations can take a humorous tone. Participants are encouraged to remember funny events about the departed and celebrate their lives, march in the parades, and create alters for the dead.
Participating persons often go to cemeteries to be with the souls of the departed and build private altars to honor the deceased with marigolds (flowers), sugar skulls, and the favorite foods of the departed near or on the graves. Photos and other memorabilia of the departed are also typically included. These private altars are called ofrendas. Most celebrators clean their houses and prepare the favorite dishes of their deceased loved ones to place upon their ofrendas. Public schools at all levels also sometimes build ofrendas, but usually omit the religious symbols common in the alters outside of the public school system. The intent in making an ofrenda is to encourage the souls of the departed to visit, so that they will hear the comments of the living.
Some believe possessing Dia De Muertos items, such as sugar skulls or items place on an ofrenda, can bring about good luck. With this idea in mind, many people carry Day of the Dead dolls and some even get tattoos of skulls, marigolds, or other Day of the Dead related images.
In the 17th century, sugar art was brought to the New World (Central America) by missionaries. Although Mexico was abundant in sugar production at the time, its people were too poor to buy fancy imported European decorations.Nevertheless, they learned quickly how to make their own sugar art for their religious festivals. Clay molded sugar figures were created. These early figures depicted things such as angels and, of course, the famous sugar skulls. Sugar skulls represent a departed soul and usually have the name of the deceased written on the forehead. These sugar skulls are a staple of ofrenda offerings and in abundant production during the Day of the Dead. They are labor intensive to make and usually made in small batches at home, but imported candy skulls are quickly taking the place of traditional sugar skulls for the mere convenience. The art style of sugar skull reflects a folk art style. Colorful icing is paired with wide smiles and the treats are often adorned with glitter.