If you’re squeamish about skulls and skeletons, don’t even think about trying to celebrate Day of the Dead the traditional way. The truth is…You might be able to get away with decorating your Day of the Dead altar with just marigolds and photos, but without Day of the Dead skulls on your altar, just how are the spirits of your loved ones supposed to find their way home?
The tradition of Day of the Dead goes all the way back to pre-Columbian times, when indigenous peoples in Latin America spent a whole month honoring a goddess known as the “Lady of the Dead.” Over the centuries, the “Lady of the Dead” tradition blended with Christian beliefs to create the Day of the Dead we know today.
El Día de los Muertos celebrations exist to commemorate the lives of our deceased loved ones, as well as to welcome their spirits back to the land of the living for a few hours. Believe it or not it is a complete party, far from being a sad and unpleasant one.
The spirits of little children return first, starting at midnight on Nov 1, followed by the rest of the spirits on Nov 2.
When the spirits arrive, they will be disoriented and hungry so the best way to help them is by setting up Day of the Dead altars. Altars therefore are very important part of the holiday.
3 Reasons for Using Day of the Dead Skulls
First, they serve as representations in the altar. A typical Day of the Dead altar contains ofrendas or food and drink offerings to refresh the spirits, plus piles of marigolds and decorations like photos, skeleton figurines, catrinas, and of course sugar skulls with the names of the deceased written on them.
Second, using Day of the Dead skulls help the spirits confirm that they have returned to the correct altar according to tradition. When we use the skulls we live our Hispanic heritage.
Third, sugar skulls make excellent gifts for the living during El Día de los Muertos because they are usually handmade and we decorate them with details about the person they are representing.
These skulls are a personal gift we took the time to make or decorate. They are valuable and in many families the sugar skulls are reused over and over each year.
Keep in mind, we make the skulls and use color icing to decorate, but you can buy premade skulls to decorate yourself. You can even buy completely finished ones to write a name on and stick on the altar.
Making Your Sugar Skulls
If you want to make sugar skulls, you will need some special supplies. For a complete list check my Mexican Sugar Skulls page.
If you want the brief version here it is. First of all, you will need to purchase a skull mold. These molds come in many different sizes, with the larger ones being more typical for altar skulls and the smaller ones for gifts.
You will also need to find some high quality meringue powder. Most cake supply shops sell a diluted meringue powder that works for icing but not for sugar skulls, so it’s best to get your meringue powder from a Mexican foods shop or here in my Mexican Sugar Skulls page.
The recipe for Day of the Dead skulls is really simple. For every cup of sugar you use, mix in one teaspoon of meringue powder and one teaspoon of water.
Blend the ingredients together until the mixture holds your fingerprints and doesn’t crumble. Pack it tightly into your skull molds, then immediately flip the molds over onto a piece of cardboard to release the skulls. Let the skulls dry overnight and then decorate!
Don’t Miss Out on Making and Using Day of the Dead Sugar Skulls the Easy Way!
Here is the guide I put together with the help of my son (in the pictures) to make perfect and simple calaveras del Día de Los Muertos or sugar skulls.
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Note: The file is in Adobe PDF, 13.9 MB in size and can be printed as fast draft for the text pages. Print the images in high quality resolution to obtain top results on your Day of the Dead skulls.
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