"Calaveras" : The Mexican skulls !
The famous "Calaveras" are symbols of the Day of the Dead. These Mexican skulls have been very popular for a long time and can be found everywhere: from clothes to tattoos, to jewelry and even on dishes! Although these skulls are very popular, do you really think you know everything about them? 🤔
1) Origins of Calaveras
A. "The day of the dead ", a mexican culture
The Day of the Dead is a dance festival celebrated in central and southern Mexico 🇲🇽 every November 1st and 2nd. Even though it coincides with the Catholic holiday of All Saints' Day, indigenous peoples have combined it with their own ancestral beliefs to honor their deceased loved ones :
- November 1: the gates of heaven open on October 31 at midnight and the spirits of all the dead children (Angelitos) are reunited with their families for 24 hours.
- November 2: the spirits of the adults descend to Earth to enjoy the festivities that have been prepared for them.
The Day of the Dead, typical of Mexican culture, is a celebration of life... and what better way to celebrate it than to reunite those of us who remain here and those who watch over us in the afterlife?
"El día de Los muertos" can be closely related to Christian beliefs. In this way, a Day of the Dead altar is dedicated to the passion of Christ. These altars are placed throughout the whole country in homes and institutions to commemorate the dead.
In the Mesoamerican world, there were five cardinal points: center, north, south, east and west, unlike those you are used to see. The main candle is located in the center and symbolizes fire. 🔥
B. What are Calaveras?":
Calaveras, also known as "sugar skulls," are intricately decorated skulls made from sugar or clay, with vibrant colors and intricate patterns. They hold a significant place in Mexican culture, particularly during Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebrations. Calaveras symbolize a joyful remembrance of deceased loved ones, where families create and offer these beautifully crafted skulls as offerings on altars, alongside marigold flowers and favorite foods of the departed. These ornate skulls are a blend of artistry and tradition, representing a belief in the eternal cycle of life and death, celebrating the continuity of love and memory beyond the physical world.
C. Long Journey of the Death.
The Aztec and other Nahua peoples who lived from the 13th to the 16th century in what is now central Mexico had a cyclical view of the universe. They considered death to be an integral and ever-present part of life.
Upon dying, a person would have gone to Chicunamictlán, with the sole purpose of finding Mictecacihuatl (the goddess of death) in the land of the dead. Only after passing through nine very difficult levels, during a long journey of four years, the soul of the person could finally reach Mictlán, the last place of rest.
D. A fusion of Traditions
November 1 in Mexico, which you can also find under the name "Nuestros Angelitos" (from Spanish our little angels 👼🏻) is the day of the "innocent saints" (children and virgins), and represents the return of the spirits of defunct children. The next day, November 2, represents the arrival of the departed adults, who would be slower to travel the path between the two worlds.
Make no mistake, "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 settlers from Spain.
The Hispanic settlers conquered Latin America in the 16th century, and subsequently introduced Catholic elements into the celebrations in order to convert the indigenous people to the emerging religion in this part of Latin America, the Christian religion. This task was quite delicate since the local populations were very reluctant to these Christian beliefs! 🤨
The monks therefore had to draw on their already strong and entrenched beliefs and rituals to match their own beliefs and rites. They also brought such traditions to the New World, with a darker view of death influenced by the devastation of the bubonic plague.
This is the reason why the Mexican Day of the Dead, which is a holiday in Mexico, has been progressively shifted from August to the first two days of November to be in line with the All Saints' Day, always of Christian origin 📅. It is a real ritual paying tribute to the dead in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica.
Now you know a little more about the Day of the Dead and its origins, and you understand what is the vision that Mexicans have about death. Let's go to the next part!
2) La Catrina
A. History of La Catrina
This female skeleton has been represented by multiple engravers such as Manuel Manilla or Antonio Vanegas Arroyo. However, the most famous representation is, without a doubt, the one by José Guadalupe Posada called the calavera garbancera (the skeleton selling chickpeas). Its popularity reached its peak during the government of Porfirio Díaz in the 19th century. This illustration by Posada highlighted situations of inequality and injustice in the country and in Porfirio society. The chickpeas reflect the reality of the indigenous people who stopped selling corn to sell chickpeas, pretending to be Europeans and thus denying their own race, heritage and culture.
"Death is democratic, because after all, white, black, rich or poor, all people end up as skeletons." José Guadalupe Posada
In Posada's work, we find this democracy, skulls dressed in gala outfits, on horseback, in high society or in neighborhood parties. However, the real meaning is of course to represent the misery, the political errors, the hypocrisy of a society.
Years later, it was the muralist Diego Rivera who named this character "La Catrina", including it in his work and making it famous.
B. what does the Catrina represent
In the middle of the 20th century, the Catrina reappeared in newspapers such as "El Socialista" (the newspaper where Guadalupe Posada published his first Mexican skull decoration) accompanying verses that praised the political class of the time in Mexico, these verses were given the name "Calaveras Literarias" (Literary Skulls). You can read more about these literary skulls later.
Later, in the 60's, the image of the Saint Death was known, which is the figure of a Christian virgin, but instead of having a human face, she has a Mexican skull. Her first apparitions took place in the city of Veracruz. The people who adore and venerate this emblem of the Holy Death frame themselves in the Catholic religion asking for health, love and money. However, Christianity in general repudiates it, considering that its cult is closer to diabolic rituals and a lack of respect for the official symbols of the Catholic Christian religion.
3) Calavera: Symbol of the Day of the Dead
A Mexican Calavera, often referred to simply as a "Calavera," is a symbol of vibrant cultural significance in Mexico.
A. The celebrations of the Day of the Dead
During the contemporary Day of the Dead celebrations, the deceased are reunited with their families in the cemetery where they rest ⚰️ (also called pantheons) to restore cleanliness and perform burials.
The atmosphere is jovial and people commemorate the departed ones with joy. They sing and dance around their graves, adding the Mexican touch: throwing flower petals and lighting candles.
They usually wear brightly colored skull masks. Mexicans erect altars in their homes and treat the deceased as honored guests during their celebrations. Thus, they place many offerings at the feet of the altars: traditional Mexican favorite dishes 🍲 of the deceased, fruits 🍇 , flowers (often roses), candies, tequila, and the famous traditional Calaveras ☠️
B. Sugar Skulls for Halloween
There is probably no more iconic symbol of the Day of the Dead than the skull or Calaveras. This Mexican skull is usually a richly decorated representation of a skull, often featuring flowers 🌺, animals 🦊 and other decorations.
During the All Saints' Day vacation, this image is omnipresent, whether in offerings, paper crafts, or even cartoons in newspapers. In some ways, the Calavera has become an embodiment of the holiday itself.
Calaveras are sugar skulls made to celebrate the Day of the Dead 💀. You can often find them in every bakery with a special sweet bread called the Pan De Muerto (literally bread of the dead).
The "pan de ánimas" rituals of Spain's All Souls holiday are exemplified in the famous Pan de Muerto, which is the traditional dish of Day of the Dead celebrations today. Other foods and drinks associated with the vacation, but consumed year-round, include spicy dark chocolate 🍫and the corn-based liqueur called Atole.
4) Rich in Colors Tradition
As you've probably noticed, Mexican skulls are colored in beautiful, bright, garish colors 🎨. Do you know why these endearing skulls are decorated with little frosty details instead of just being molded skulls? Is it just to make them look cute instead of terrifying? No, not exactly.
Mexicans see death from a much more optimistic point of view than we do and that is why death is not celebrated in a dark, morbid and austere atmosphere. It is essential for them that it is synonymous with joy and hope 🙏 because that is what connects the alive to 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 small sugar skulls to the altars, these little skull-shaped treats should be decorated with shiny icing and bright colored foil to simulate orange hair, red eyes and a big white smile.
Of course, Calaveras can be decorated in all sorts of colors, but when people paint their faces as if they were sugar skulls themselves, the colors they use take on special meaning.
- Red is used to represent our blood
- Orange to represent the sun or Aztec mourning
- Yellow to represent Mexican worry (which represents death itself)
- Crimson is painful (although in other cultures it can also be wealth and royalty)
- Pink and white are hope, purity and celebration
- Black represents the land of the dead
- White refers to the sky
- Finally, purple represents mourning for Christians
6) Mexican tattoos
While it's very trendy, many of these Mexican skull tattoos have a rich history attached to them, that mean a lot more than you think! 🤨
Tattooing plays an important role in Aztec culture, even children are tattooed. The ancient Aztec tattoo designs were rather rudimentary and were not only designed to decorate the body, but for a variety of reasons.
Aztec tribal tattoos were made during rituals and always in honor of a specific god. Tattoo designs were used to identify different tribes. Aztec tattoo designs were used to mark a person's status, to show a warrior's rank and achievements.
B. Meaning of the patterns
There are several tattoo designs that we commonly see in regards to Aztec and Mexican tattoos. Many Aztec tattoo designs involve the sun 🌞
Sun tattoos were in honor of Huitzilopochtili, the Aztec sun god. The sun was very important to the Aztec people, was the guardian of the sky. That is why today a tattoo of the Aztec sun symbolizes the belief in an afterlife.
Quetzalcoatl, the feathered snake god 🐍 of ancient Mexico, has also been adapted to Mexican tattooing. Quetzalcoatl, the god of time, creativity and fertility, was the most powerful of all the Aztec gods.
Mexican tattoos are unique inks and can have various meanings. So, if you want to commemorate a loved one, who had a great impact in your life, you can pay tribute to them with a Mexican skull tattoo. Do not hesitate to write the name of the person commemorated 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 on the body with this inking, no words will be present above, below, or on it. This one represents much more than death! We can also find the memory and spirituality that never left.
C. Meaning of Tattoo Size
The Mexican skull tattoo is not that kind of small tattoo that is just a detail on a wrist or ankle. Its size varies but is still considerable compared to the ones we are used to see. It is well seen on the back, on the forearm, on the feet, sometimes even on the calves 🦶. If someone has several Calavera in tattoo, then it means that this person commemorates the age of the dead people.
The Mexican skull tattoo is often larger than the rest of the inks. It comes with many details, all of which are equally important. This kind of tattoo is going to require the use of a lot of colors and if you make it too small, the color is going to be too complicated to make itself visible. However, each of the colors also has its own meaning and therefore an importance.
7) "Mexican Skull" Makeup
Mexican skull makeup is just as much a trend as the famous tattoos we mentioned above, and has been for quite a few years! Halloween day 🎃 is every year and you never know how to dress up? 🧟♀️
Why don't you opt for a face painting? If you have good makeup skills, your creations can really be great as part of your Halloween costume. There are thousands of tutorials (on YouTube!) to get your Mexican Halloween makeup right today.
Don't have the time or patience to make a makeup mask as elaborate and detailed as the Calaveras? No need to cover your entire face to make an impact. 🖌
Leave half of your "costume" natural and focus on applying beautiful details on just one side of your face. Also, if you want to make an impact, the simple act of applying rhinestones 💎 around the eyes improves the whole costume.
By now, Calaveras are no longer a secret to you! These famous Mexican skulls can also be made into pretty jewelry 💍 why not let yourself be tempted by accessories featuring the Mexican skull?