Have you ever wondered what the story behind The Day of the Dead holiday is and the significance of the decorative skulls that so many people like? Well, I wanted to thoroughly understand it so I did a little research and wanted to share it with you.
November 2 is the official Day of the Dead holiday typically celebrated through Mexico, but quickly expanding to all areas where Latinos live. It should really be called Days of the Dead because the celebration starts on October 31st and runs through November 2nd, coinciding with the Catholic holidays All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day (Nov. 1 and 2).
The Day of the Dead ("Dia de los Muertos") originated in Mexico centuries ago and is a blend of pre-Hispanic indigenous beliefs and Spanish Catholic beliefs. It is a festive and joyous time of celebration to remember and honor those who have died. This is the most important holiday in Mexico. Traditionally, November 1 is the day for honoring dead children and infants, and November 2 is the day for honoring deceased adults.
Many people around the world, even if they are not directly connected to Mexican culture, are drawn to the concept and imagery of Mexico's Day of the Dead, so the holiday has gained in popularity as more people learn about it. Artists, including myself, have been captivated by the colorful decorative skulls ("Sugar Skulls) associated with this holiday.
Some of the traditions for this holiday by the people who celebrate it include, creating altars to honor their deceased loved ones. Families will also visit cemeteries to clean the graves of their loved ones, which they then decorate with flowers, photos, candles, food and drinks. Some people will hold all-night graveside vigils, socializing and telling stories about their dead ancestors. Musicians are hired to stroll through the graveyard, playing the favorite songs of the dead. This may all seem a bit odd, but it's similar to the rituals seen in the United States, where people commonly visit the graves of their loved ones and spend a few minutes remembering, connecting and then leave flowers. I guess Latinos just like connecting a little longer and chose to make it a festive occasion. During this time it is believed that the deceased return to their earthly homes to visit and rejoice with their loved ones. Making or purchasing and exchanging sugar skulls and other sweets is another tradition affiliated with The Day of the Dead.
Now this is where the story gets interesting. Most people in Mexico celebrate the Day of the Dead out of love and commitment to their loved ones, but some people celebrate this holiday out of fear! Mexico is rampant with folk tales that tell what happens if someone neglects their ancestors on this day. If a spirit returns to find that no one has built an altar for them, or that their loved ones only left them paltry offerings, they will feel sad and angry... especially when they see the grandiose offerings other spirits received! Neglected spirits may seek vengeance on those who have forgotten them. Additionally, many folk tales describe how those who ignore their deceased loved ones fall immediately ill and even meet their death shortly after the holiday.
Sugar skulls are by far the most popular symbol of Mexico's "Day of the Dead". Sugar skulls are given as gifts to both the living and the dead as an offering. Sugar art was brought to the New World by Italian missionaries in the 17th century. Since there is a lot of room to show creativity when it comes to sugar skills, they are among the favorite and fun items to paint, especially at this time of year. Above, you can see my Sugar Skull painting in honor of this memorable holiday. Do you like it? Visit me at www.artbyjuliec.com.
Julie Crisan is a self-taught artist. She enjoys painting abstracts and folk art primarily using acrylic on canvas. Her art comes framed and ready to hang for your enjoyment. Her mission is to beautify the world one wall at a time and she hopes that by keeping her work affordable it will be within budget of anyone who enjoys collecting original paintings.