This day is fundamentally important to them because during the Day of the Dead it was believed that the line between the spirit world and the real world blurred. So it is the day when the dead see the living again.
Therefore, this day is not significant for sadness, but rather for celebration and joy , because according to the belief of the Mexicans, the souls of their dead awaken and return to the world of the living to drink, dance and make music with their loved ones. In fact, they’re proper little celebratory reunions, as if their dead are returning from a long journey, pretty nice, isn’t it? 🥳
» El día de los muertos » can be linked in some way to the Christian faith. An altar on the Day of the Dead is dedicated to the suffering of Christ. These altars are placed in homes and institutions across the country to commemorate the dead.
In the Mesoamerican world, there were five cardinal points: center, north, south, east, and west, as opposed to the cardinal points you normally see. The main candle is in the middle and symbolizes fire. 🔥
The Skull World team reports in more detail about the origin of the Day of the Dead in this article .
B. Death’s long journey
The Aztecs were a tribe that lived in and around what is now Mexico from the 13th to the 16th centuries. Religion and the many gods were very important in Aztec culture . A large part of Aztec daily life was designed to honor and please the gods. 📿
The Aztec and other Nahua peoples of what is now central Mexico had a cyclical view of the universe. They saw death as an integral and ever-present part of life.
If a person had died, they would have gone to Chicunamictlán with the sole aim of finding Mictecacihuatl (the goddess of death) in the land of the dead . It was only after the person’s soul had gone through nine very difficult levels in a long, four-year journey that it was finally able to reach Mictlán, the final resting place.
At the rituals honoring the dead , traditionally held in August, family members will provide food, water and tools to help the skeletons of the deceased on this difficult adventure. This inspired the contemporary Day of the Dead practice, in which people leave food or other offerings at the graves of their loved ones or place them on makeshift altars, called ofrendas , in their homes. 🎁
To shed light on the dead souls’ path towards their homes on earth, people had an interesting ritual. In medieval Spain, they covered the graves with flowers sprinkled with lit candles! Probably a beautiful sight to behold.
C. A fusion of traditions
November 1st in Mexico, which you can also find under the name Nuestros Angelitos (Spanish for our little angels 👼🏻), is the Day of the Holy Innocents (Children and Virgins) and symbolizes the return of the spirits of children who have died . The next day, November 2nd, represents the arrival of the deceased adults who would slow down the path connecting the two worlds.
Don’t get me wrong, El día de los muertos does not simply represent the evolution of the cult of the dead practiced by the Aztecs. This very special day is the product of a fusion of traditions with Christian culture⛪️ by the settlers coming from Spain.
It conquered Latin America in the 19th century and later introduced Catholic elements into the celebrations to convert locals to the new religion emerging in this part of Latin America, Christianity. This was a difficult task as the local population was very hostile to the Christian faith! 🤨
So the monks had to draw on their already very present and ingrained beliefs and rituals and reconcile them with their own beliefs and rituals. They brought such traditions to the New World as well, with a darker view of death influenced by the ravages of the bubonic plague .
For this reason, the Mexican Day of the Dead, which is a public holiday in Mexico, was gradually moved from August to the first two days of November to align with the feast of All Saints’ Day, which is still of Christian origin 📅. It is a real ritual used in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica to honor the dead.
You now know a little more about the Day of the Dead and its origins , and understand how Mexicans view death. Go on!
2) Die Catrina
At the end of the 19th century, the printer and draftsman José Guadalupe Posada Mictecacíhuatl imagined the Aztec goddess of the underworld as a female skeleton that came to be known as La Calavera Catrina and is now the most recognizable icon of the Day of the Dead.
This tall female skeleton wears a fancy hat with feathers . You’ve probably seen it in different contexts, because bold and unique makeup has become very fashionable in recent years. The essence of their story is rooted in Mexican traditions and roots 🇲🇽 but has only been redesigned in the last century.
It is believed that the Aztecs worshiped a death goddess who they believed protected their departed loved ones and helped them in the next steps. The Mexican tradition of honoring and celebrating the dead is deeply rooted in the culture of their people.
Today, La Catrina is a popular tourist attraction and can be found as a statue in many local shops in Mexico, made of wood, clay or paper mache. There are eloquently painted feathers and real feathers that are added to the hats. Many people buy these statues and bring them back as a souvenir of their stay in Mexico 🇲🇽. Its identity is undeniable, La Catrina is 100% Mexican!
We’re considering writing a whole article about this curious goddess Catrina, what do you think? Let us know in the comments!
3) Calaveras: Emblem of the Totenfestes
A. The Day of the Dead celebrations
In contemporary Day of the Dead celebrations, the deceased meet with their families in the cemetery where they rest ⚰️ (also called pantheons) to restore cleanliness and perform burials .
The mood is cheerful and the people commemorate their deceased with joy. They sing and dance around the graves, adding the Mexican touch by throwing flower petals and lighting candles.
They usually wear brightly colored skull masks. Mexicans erect altars in their homes and treat the deceased as guests of honor at their celebrations . At the foot of the altar they place numerous offerings: traditional Mexican favorites 🍲 of the deceased, fruits 🍇 , flowers (often roses), sweets, tequila and the famous traditional calaveras ☠️.
B. Cute skulls for All Saints’ Day
There is arguably no more iconic symbol of the Day of the Dead than the skull or calaveras. This Mexican skull and crossbones is typically an ornate representation of a skull, often containing flowers 🌺, animals 🦊, and other embellishments.
During the All Saints’ Day holiday, this image is ubiquitous, be it in the form of offerings, paper crafts or even cartoons in the newspapers. In a way, the Calavera has become an embodiment of the festival itself.
Calaveras are sugar skulls made to celebrate the Day of the Dead 💀. You can often find them in any bakery along with a special sweet bread called pan de muerto (literally bread of the dead).
The Pan de ánimas rituals of the Feast of All Souls in Spain are exemplified by the famous Pan de Muerto, which is now the traditional dish of the Day of the Dead celebrations. Other foods and drinks associated with the holidays but consumed throughout the year include spicy dark chocolate 🍫 and the corn liquor called atole.
4) Tradition Rich in colors
As you have probably already noticed, the Mexican skulls are colored in beautiful, bright colors 🎨. Do you know why these adorable skulls are decorated with little frosty details instead of just being sculpted skulls? Is it just to make them look cute instead of scary? No, not exactly.
Mexicans see death from a much more optimistic perspective than we do and this is why death is not celebrated in a dark, morbid and austere atmosphere. It is essential for them that it represents joy and hope 🙏 because that is what connects the living with the dead in their culture.
Everything about « El día de los muertos is bright and colorful ✨, especially the decorations. If Mexicans are going to bring tiny sugar skulls to the altars, these tiny skull-shaped treats need to be decorated with shiny icing and a shiny foil of paint to simulate orange hair, red eyes, and a big white smile.
Of course, Calaveras can come in all sorts of colorsdecorated, but when people paint their faces as if they were sugar skulls themselves, the colors they use take on a special meaning.
- Red is used to represent our blood
- Orange to represent the sun or Aztec mourning.
- Yellow to represent Mexican sorrow (representing death itself).
- Purple is painful (although it can also represent wealth and royalty in other cultures).
- Pink and white represent hope, purity and celebration.
- Black represents the land of the dead
- White refers to the sky
- Finally, for Christians, purple represents mourning
The calaveras are adorned with the marigold . These flowers have a real role and meaning in Mexican culture.
In Mexico, death is commemorated with the marigold. The marigold has the virtue of being able to guide the dead . Mexicans will re-inscribe the ground with paths adorned with the petals of this sacred flower to lead the deceased to the altar erected in their honor.
Although it is a traditional flower, any other flowers 🌸 can be represented on the Mexican head as well. However, to make it stand out even more from the other flowers, the marigold is usually dyed yellow or orange to make it stand out even more.
6) Mexican tattoos
Although very fashionable, many of these Mexican skull tattoos will carry a rich history, and meanings that mean a lot more than you think! 🤨
Tattoos play an important role in Aztec culture, even children get tattooed. The ancient tattoo designs of the Aztecs were rather rudimentary and were designed not just to decorate the body but for a variety of reasons.
Aztec tribal tattoos were done in ritual and always in honor of a specific god. The tattoo designs were used to identify the different tribes. Aztec tattoo designs were used to mark a person’s status to show a warrior’s rank and accomplishments.
B. Importance of Reasons
There are various tattoo templates that we commonly see in relation to Aztec and Mexican tattoos. Many Aztec tattoo designs incorporate the sun 🌞 in one way or another.
The sun tattoos were done in honor of Huitzilopochtili , the Aztec sun god. The sun was very important to the Aztec people, was the guardian of the sky. Therefore, today, an Aztec sun tattoo symbolizes belief in life after death.
Quetzalcoatl , the feathered 🐍 serpent god of ancient Mexico, has also been adapted to the Mexican tattoo. Quetzalcoatl, the god of time, creativity and fertility, was the most powerful of all Aztec gods.
Mexican tattoos are unique inks and can have different meanings. So if you want to commemorate a loved one who had a huge impact on your life, you can honor them with a Mexican skull tattoo. Don’t hesitate to write the name of the memorial on the forehead of the skull. The rest of the tattoo should be richly colored. 🎨
In order to have a greater mark of respect and affection towards the person depicted on the body with this tattoo, no words shall be above, below or on it. This stands for much more than just death! You can also find in it the memory and the spirituality that never goes away.
C. Importance of tattoo size
The Mexican skull tattoo is not the type of small tattoo that is just a detail on a wrist or ankle. Its size varies but is still substantial compared to the usual tattoos one usually sees. You can see it well on the back, on the forearm, on the feet, sometimes even on the calves 🦶. If someone has multiple calavera tattoos then it means that person is commemorating the age of the deceased.
When a person wears a small Mexican skull tattoo, they may be honoring the death of a very young person 👶🏼 or even a child. If the Mexican Calavera’s inkwell is very large , it means that the person carrying it is commemorating the death of an adult. 👴🏻
The Mexican skull tattoo is often larger than the rest of the tattoos. It comes with many details , all of which are equally important. This type of tattoo will require the use of many colors and making it too small will make it too complicated to show the color. However, each color also has its own meaning and is therefore important.
7) Mexican skull makeup
Mexican skull makeup is as popular as the famous tattoos mentioned above – and has been for a number of years! Halloween 🎃 is every year and you never know how to dress up? 🧟
Why don’t you opt for makeup? If you have good makeup skills, your creations can really stand out in your Halloween costume . There are thousands of tutorials (on YouTube alone !) on how to do Mexican Halloween makeup today.
Don’t you have the time or patience to create a makeup mask as meticulous and elaborate as the Calaveras’? You don’t have to cover your entire face to have an effect. 🖌
Keep half of your costume natural and focus on adding nice details to one side of your face. If you also want to add impact, the simple gesture of adding rhinestones 💎 around the eyes enhances the entire costume.
Now the Calaveras are no longer a secret for you! These famous Mexican skulls can also be made into pretty jewelry 💍. Why not let yourself be seduced by accessories with a Mexican skull?
For more information on Mexican skulls, « »see our dedicated page » » .