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For other uses, see Calaveras (disambiguation).
Sugar skull used on the Day of the Dead
"Gran calavera eléctrica" (Great electric skull) by José Guadalupe Posada, 1900–1913. Restored reproduction.

A calavera (Spanish -pronounced: [kalaˈβeɾa] for "skull") is a representation of human skull made from either sugar or clay, which is used in the Mexican celebration of the Day of the Dead (El Dia de Los Muertos) and the Roman Catholic holiday All Souls and saints Day. Calavera can also refer to any artistic representations of skulls, such as the lithographs of José Guadalupe Posada.[1]

Traditional Sugar Skulls vs. Sugar Skulls[edit]

Traditional Sugar Skulls:

  • Are usually imported from Mexico and are made by people who were taught how to create these from their families. Getting a wealth of information on how to create and use the molds that have been passed on from many generations.[2]
  • They have been made the same that they were made in the 17th century.
  • The creators usually take around four to six months to gather enough sugar skulls for the season. After doing this they will take all the sugar skulls and set them upon a temporary stall for the outdoor market two weeks before the Day of the Dead (El Dia de Los Muertos).
  • Sugar Skulls that are decorated with sombreros are rare because this design has mostly disappeared since the 1970s.[2]
  • It is considered to only be folk art only and not meant to be consumed. They are considered folk art for many reasons, the first being they are usually decorated with inedible items (beads, feathers, tin foil, etc.) another being that they are shipped from Mexico and it is said on the packages that they are not made in food approved kitchens.[3]

Sugar Skulls:

  • They could either be made as folk art or they could be eaten like candy.
  • These sugar skulls recipe or molds haven't been passed down from generation to generation like traditional sugar skulls.[2]

Sugar skulls[edit]

These sweeties are often made from sugar cane, usually in one piece without flavoring (except sometimes vanilla) and adorned with lines of vegetable dye, commonly in green, blue, yellow or red colors. Other variations of edible calaveras may be made of chocolate. The names of living people are commonly written on the foreheads and can be bought and given as gifts.[4] Calaveras may be eaten, or kept for a few days and then thrown away.

Clay skulls[edit]

Clay toy variations of calaveras also resemble the shape of human skulls. These toys are often painted a metallic silver color, but they may also be found in colors such as white, black, and red. Beaded eyes of contrasting colors may also be added.

Literary Calaveras[edit]

Poetry written for the Day of the Dead are known as literary calaveras, and are intended to humorously criticize the living while reminding them of their mortality.[5][6] Literary calaveras appeared during the second half of the nineteenth century, when drawings critical of important politicians began to be published in the press. Living personalities were depicted as skeletons exhibiting recognizable traits, making them easily identifiable. Additionally, drawings of dead personalities often contained text elements providing details of the deaths of various individuals.

History of the Calaveras[edit]

They have been made the same since the 17th century.[7] They are created for children and as offerings for the altars of El Dia de Los Muertos or The Day of the Dead. They are usually created with real sugar cane, colored tin foil, icing, beads, clay, feathers, etc. When they are put on altars they usually have the name of the dead loved one that is being commemorated across the forehead of the Sugar Skull and written on the colored tin foil. These candy skulls also show the significance of skeletons on this holiday of The Day of the Dead or El Dia de Los Muertos which has both roots of Halloween (Celtic festival called Samhain) and the Aztec, Mayan, and Toltec cultures celebration of The Day of the Dead.[8] In pre- Columbian times the images of skulls and skeletons were shown often in the media like paintings, pottery, etc. Representing rebirth into the next stage of life. During the 20th century a political caricaturist Jose Guadalupe Posada who became famous for making Calaveras as vain skeletons with wealth attire the most famous one was Katarina who wears a feathery hat and a long dress and is considered to be the personification of The Day of the Dead.[8] These skeletons are created from many materials such as wood, sugar paste varieties, types of nuts, chocolate, etc.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ About an José Guadalupe Posada's Calavera Revolucionaria, retrieved 2007-11-13, Posada created many images of calaveras (skeletons) performing many different human activities. These images were/are used for the Day of The Dead celebrations in Mexico. 
  2. ^ a b c "Frequently Asked Questions about Day of the Dead, Sugar Skulls, Mexican Folk Art, Oilcloth & Papel Picado". Retrieved 2015-06-29. 
  3. ^ "Day of the Dead Sweets and Treats — Hungry History". Retrieved 2015-06-29. 
  4. ^ Stanley Brandes (8 January 2007). Skulls to the Living, Bread to the Dead: The Day of the Dead in Mexico and Beyond. Wiley-Blackwell. p. 43. ISBN 978-1-4051-5248-8. 
  5. ^ Rangel, Sonia. "Calavera poetry reading slated for Nov. 1". Tejano Tribune. Retrieved 2007-11-13. [dead link]
  6. ^ Barradas, Francisco (2007-11-01). "Calaveras and Posadas". El Tecolote (in Spanish). Retrieved 2007-11-13. 
  7. ^ "Frequently Asked Questions about Day of the Dead, Sugar Skulls, Mexican Folk Art, Oilcloth & Papel Picado". Retrieved 2015-07-01. 
  8. ^ a b "Day of the Dead Sweets and Treats — Hungry History". Retrieved 2015-07-01. 

External links[edit]