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The Significance of Sugar Skulls

Colorful sugar skulls are often found on altars during Día de los Muertos celebrations. They are ubiquitous with this tradition, but have also become popular outside of this holiday. The significance of sugar skulls is closely tied to Mexico's history.  

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Mexican in origin, today El Día de los Muertos (or Day of the Dead) is widely observed in Latin America and Latino communities. The holiday takes place November 1–2 and brings together families, neighborhoods, and cities to both mourn and celebrate community members who have passed on. The holiday includes striking, colorful iconography, like sugar skulls, which are appealing enough to have made it onto T-shirts and tattoos.

But what’s the background of these particular artistic representations of death?
The answer to that question is closely tied to Mexico’s history of colonization and the influence of different cultures. According to historical anthropologist Stanley Brandes, diverse Indigenous customs and beliefs about death combined with Spanish, and in particular Catholic, practices (such as the celebration of All Souls’ or All Saints’ Day) to create the iconography that today represents one of Mexico’s best-known cultural exports.