When we first moved to the Southwest, I got freaked out by the colorful skulls that appeared everywhere starting in September. I thought it must be some sort of Mexican version of Halloween. I now know it’s much deeper than that.
Day of the Dead has its roots in the Aztec culture. After the Spanish conquest, the remembrance of loved ones who had passed on became associated with the Roman Catholic celebration of All Souls Day, November 2.
The colorful skulls, or calaveras, (the ones pictured above are from the PeyotePeople shop on Etsy) are not meant to be spooky, but joyful, as the celebrations are full of family stories and jokes and poignant memories of the courage and unique personalities of their ancestors. In Mexico, families visit cemeteries to pay their respects, eat, drink, and dance to the music of mariachi bands.
In the United States, the Hispanic community is more likely to conduct remembrances in their homes, near an altar bearing photographs of the deceased. Offerings of food are placed on the altar, to nourish the spirits, whom they believe return to their loved ones for a single day to be close by and protect them from evil. The altars are decorated with marigolds, with cut-paper banners (papel picado), with brightly colored skeletal figures, and with sugar skulls, a confection made in the calavera shape. People and especially children may also have their faces painted with colorful designs. (Click on the images below to enlarge and to see credits.)
Would you like to see more calaveras? Click here.