A sugar skull, a common gift for children and decoration for the Day of the Dead.

A calavera [plural: calaveras] (Spanishpronounced [kalaˈβeɾa] for "skull") is a representation of a human skull. The term is most often applied to edible or decorative skulls made (usually by hand) from either sugar (called Alfeñiques) or clay that are used in the Mexican celebration of the Day of the Dead (Spanish: Día de Muertos) and the Roman Catholic holiday All Souls' Day. Calavera can also refer to any artistic representations of skulls, such as the lithographs of José Guadalupe Posada. The most widely known calaveras are created with cane sugar and are decorated with items such as colored foil, icing, beads, and feathers. They range in multiple colors.[1]

Traditional methods for producing calaveras have been in use since the 1630s.[2] The skulls are created either for children or as offerings to be placed on altars known as ofrendas for the Día de Muertos, which has roots in the Aztec, Mayan, and Toltec cultural celebration of the Day of the Dead.[3]

The tradition of sugar skulls is for families to decorate their loved ones' ofrendas with both large and small handmade sugar skulls.[4] Children who have died, represented by small sugar skulls, are celebrated on November 1. The larger sugar skulls represent the adults, whose celebration takes place on November 2. It is believed that the departed return home to enjoy the offering on the altar.[5]

In pre-Columbian times the images of skulls and skeletons were shown often in paintings, pottery, etc. representing rebirth into the next stage of life. During the 20th century a political caricaturist named José Guadalupe Posada became famous for making Calaveras as vain skeletons dressed in the clothing of the wealthy. The most famous one was Catrina, wearing a feathery hat, fancy shoes and a long dress. Catrina is considered to be the personification of The Day of the Dead.[3] These skeletons are created from many materials such as wood, sugar paste varieties, types of nuts, chocolate, etc. When used as offerings, the name of the deceased is written across the forehead of the skull on colored foil.

  1. ^ About an José Guadalupe Mexicano Posada's Calavera Revolucionaria, Chicana and Chicano Space, retrieved 19 June 2018, 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. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  2. ^ "Day of the Dead ~ Frequently Asked Questions". Reign Trading Co. Archived from the original on 19 June 2018. Retrieved 19 June 2018. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  3. ^ a b Turim, Gayle (2 November 2012). "Day of the Dead Sweets and Treats — Hungry History". History TV. Archived from the original on 10 March 2018. Retrieved 19 June 2018. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  4. ^ Chef, Katelyn (28 October 2016). "A Sweet History of Sugar Skulls on Day of the Dead". Martha Stewart. Retrieved 19 June 2018.
  5. ^ {{Cite web|url= Skulls' status in popular culture: What is their meaning and where do they originate from?|last=Gavrilova|first=Anabela|date=12 August 2013 |website=Cruel Daze of Summer|access-date=19 June 2018}