Calaveras (skulls) made of sugar are among the more colorful folk art staples of El Dia de Los Muertos which occurs November 1 (or Los Dios de los Muertos for those who recognize both November 1 and 2 as days of remembrance). The tradition dates back to the indigenous Aztecans and Mayans of several thousand years ago who celebrated the death of ancestors with rituals that included displaying skulls during ceremonies to symbolize death and rebirth.
Today’s Calaveras are made of molded sugar and are often placed on community and home altars alongside marigolds, candles, photographs, and a sampling of the deceased favorite foods. Ornately decorated with festive papers and foils, glitter, and brightly colored icings, they also carry a special message for the departed or are inscribed with that person’s name.
Years ago a sugar artist made one for me to honor the loss of my younger sister, Fortunee. During the year the skull is preserved in the freezer until Dia de los Muertos. I then place it alongside the skeleton figures I have collected over the years. These include the bride and groom of death, a skeleton riding a horse and a few hand painted Catrinas (Catrina is the Lady of Death who is the modern day version of the original celebration’s goddess Michtecacihuatl)
Calaveras generally are not gruesome or scary. They are most often pleasing to the eye which is fitting as they are intended to welcome the traveling spirits of the dead.
This folk art can be a fun family project. To find out more, here are a few recipe links:
Mexican Sugar Skulls
Sugar Skull Making