October is my favorite month, and always has been, but it might just spill over into November this year. My kid is in an elementary school program that focuses on Spanish. Because of this we take the time to read up on Spanish-speaking cultures, and it was the perfect time of year for us to learn about Mexico’s Dia de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead.
These are first and foremost happy days (there are two!) rather than sad. According to legend, the dead cannot return along a path made slippery from tears. On November 1st and 2nd, all kinds of traditions collide and become a Mexico-wide celebration of those who are gone.
The traditions come from a merging of celebrations of the Aztec goddess Mictecacihuatl (the lady of the dead) with Catholic traditions of All Soul’s Day and All Saint’s Day. These days are marked by celebrations in which the dead are remembered in a loving and light-hearted way, and certain foods are cooked (including pan de muerto, sweet bread made to look like skulls), graves are cleaned and decorated, and much merriment is made.
One famous bit of iconography from the day is La Calavera, the skull. It is made into art, and into the form of sugar candy or chocolate that is put on altars to feed the dead (who apparently have a sweet tooth, which explains Halloween). These sugar skulls also given to the living as a reminder to suck the sweetness out of life. These skulls are not scary or sad, in fact, they are decorated with symbols of rebirth — orange/yellow marigolds, vines, and bright colors.
In honor of these days, my kid and I decided that we wanted to make a few of our own Calaveras on blank post cards that we can send to people this month. This is what we did!
— Strathmore Kids Post Cards
— Pencil and eraser for penciling in our designs
— Gel pens and colored pencils
— Google search for “Calaveras” for good examples of the colors and design motifs.
I sketched out some instructions based upon studying various websites with pictures of Candy Skulls, so that my kid had something to follow. I think she did a great job!
The important parts are keeping the skull simple but happy, because Dia de los Muertos is a time of happy reunion of the dead with the living, and using the motifs of orange marigolds, vines, and flourishes. I was inspired and drew a few too! So in honor of remembering those that are gone, and in honor of the life we have right now, happy Dia de los Muertos (early).