Sugar Skull Face Mask
The Colorfulness of Sugar Skulls
Now, why are these somehow endearing skulls decorated with little icing details instead of just being the mold of the skull? Is it only so that they look cute instead of creepy? No, not exactly. Everything about Día de Muertos is bright and colorful, especially the decorations. If we’re going to add small sugar skulls to an altar, these sugar skulls should be decorated with bright icing and shiny colored foil to simulate orange hair and red eyes and a giant white smile.
The reason a holiday revolving around death is so full of color instead of being gloomy and gray is that we celebrate the lives led by those who are now gone. It’s not simply a day about mourning our loved ones and telling stories of them around their tombstones in the cemetery and our altars; it’s a day about remembering their lives and the impact they had upon us, as well as keeping in mind that just because they’re no longer with us doesn’t mean that they’re entirely gone because we keep them alive in our hearts and memories.
Of course, sugar skulls can be decorated in all kinds of colors, but when people paint their faces as if they were sugar skulls themselves, the colors they use hold a special meaning. Red is used to represent our blood; orange to represent the sun; yellow to represent the Mexican marigold (which represents death itself); purple is pain (though in other cultures, it could also be richness and royalty); pink and white are hope, purity, and celebration; and finally, black represents the Land of the Dead.
Why Do Some Sugar Skulls Have Names Written on Them?
As I mentioned before, I spent my first Día de Muertos away from home with my aunt. That Friday, when I arrived at her place, she was setting up an altar of her own in the living room, rearranging boxes to act as shelves that would later be covered with a blanket or a tablecloth. She was putting up pictures of our deceased loved ones, leaving empty spaces to put their favorite drinks and dishes (closer to November 2nd so they wouldn’t go spoiled or rotten), and placing a lot of sugar skulls of different sizes throughout the ofrenda. It was the first time I saw an altar with pictures of my family members since we usually don’t make an altar at home, and once again, these sugar skulls were what stood out to me, especially since some of them had a name written on them.
I had never seen these types of sugar skulls before, and so I asked my aunt why she had picked her sugar skulls with names rather than just general sugar skulls. She said that when you place a sugar skull with the name of someone who’s passed on in your altar, you’re honoring the memory of that person, just as you are with the rest of your offerings.
Giving someone who’s still alive, whether they’re a friend or a family member, a sugar skull with their name on it is also a regular custom around Día de Muertos. Some might find it strange, or they might think it’s some sort of prank—after all, why would you give someone a sugar skull with their name on it if those are a common part of an ofrenda? It’s because that person is meaningful to you, and so you’re reserving a spot for them in the underworld once they’ve gone on to the life after death. Besides, death is the only thing that’s certain in this life, so don’t be offended if someone ever gives you a sugar skull with your name written on it. They’re not planning anything, they’re just thinking about saving you a spot in the next life!