Skull Art Tradition-Celebrating the Day of Dead

Our dead are never dead to us, until we have forgotten them

Although, George Eliot wasn’t referring to what I’m going to talk about here, nothing more befitting could be said related to it.



Recently, while shopping in Cancun I came across this amazing artefacts-colourfully decorated skulls. I was really fascinated to see something as morbid and death-obsessed as a human skeleton to be so beautifully decorated and proudly showcased all around the shopping area.

On enquiring a little more and asking the expert (Google ^_^) I got introduced to the age old Mexican tradition and the festival Dia De Los Muertos (Day of the Dead).

This Wednesday just marked the end of this annual festival, celebrated mostly in Central and southern Mexico, as well as by Mexican-American communities across the US. It is believed to be around 3000 years old, celebrated over a span of 3 days, remembering those who passed away. This year, Mexico City celebrated the festival with its first ever official parade.

Although Cancun is not so much a Mexican culture capital, still it was dotted with these decorated skulls and skeletons as much as it was with the sombreros (cliched much?). 

20160826_194739_20161104172255580Its an interesting festival, supposed to be serious but celebrated as a colourful carnival. Many writers have written and speculated about the Mexican-mocking and not fearful attitude towards death, and this is the day it becomes evident. While death is considered to be a dark subject, Day of Dead has a different approach toward the same. A more humorous and celebratory if you must.

Traditions and the way the festival is celebrated, varies from place to place. At some places it involves dancing and parades in colourful costumes, while in other places its celebrated feasting and playing games in the graveyard. The only thing that is common throughout is the Calavera and Calaca. Skull (Calavara) and skeleton (Calaca ) icon, as a symbol of death is an imminent part of the celebration. You can see skull masks (called a calacas ), skeleton sculptures and other motifs used as decoration. Even as food, Chocolate and sugar skulls are highly popular. 

Calaca wearing sombreros

Decorated skulls became popular with the art form introduced by JosΓ© Guadalupe Posada called Calavaras. Posada used skulls and skeletons as a satire on the political and social issues. His most popular character is  Calavera de la Catrina, another political satire on the upper class European ladies of the time.  These figures are not unfamiliar to Tim Burton fans. Remember The Nightmare Before Christmas and The Corpse Bride? Yes, Tim Burton is a big fan of Calavaras πŸ˜‰


Death is not a joke, but that doesn’t mean it has to be a scare all the time. Many cultures around the world believe in ‘life after death’ while some other believe in ‘reincarnations’. It doesn’t have to be true or false. Its just a point of view, filling something sorrowful yet inevitable with acceptance and hope. Death is seen as an end to the sufferings of the human soul in the Mexican culture hence, DΓ­a de Muertos is a big commemoration of death. I really wish to be a part of this festival sometime. Mocking death seems like fun.



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