The Heartwarming Reason Sugar Skulls Have Names Written On Them

Día de Los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is an important holiday in Mexico and is typically celebrated from October 31st to November 2nd (per History). It's commonly believed that during Día de Los Muertos the veil between our world and the spirit world becomes thin enough for spirits to pass through, giving families a chance to reunite with lost loved ones. Rather than mourn and grieve, families instead celebrate and honor the lives of their loved ones that have passed on by feasting, drinking, dancing, wearing costumes, playing music, having parades, and decorating loved ones' altars and gravestones with offerings such as their favorite foods, candles, marigolds, fruit, and stacks of tortillas.

According to Day of the Dead, sugar skulls are traditionally made during Día de Los Muertos as another way of remembering and celebrating lost loved ones. The tradition of making sugar skulls during Día de Los Muertos stems from prehistoric Mesoamerican ages when skulls were displayed and offered to Mictlantecuhtli, the God of the underworld, as a way of securing a spot in the afterlife. Once conquerors from Spain took the area over, much of the Mesoamerican traditions disappeared, but the practice of offering skulls, in the form of sugar, has remained.

Sugar skulls are made to honor loved ones

As their name implies, sugar skulls are made of sugar and can be decorated with beads, glitter, sequins, feathers, and more, according to AZCentral. Once made and decorated, sugar skulls are displayed on altars or gravestones to honor spirits. While sugar skulls are edible, most people don't eat them because they're meant to be decorations. Sugar skulls are so iconic that some people paint their faces to resemble them, and jewelry, candy, and even tattoos can be seen with sugar skull designs. 

Large sugar skulls symbolize adult and elder loved ones that have passed, while smaller skulls are for children. Sugar skulls are also decorated as brightly as possible and with the names of lost loved ones because Día de Los Muertos is about celebrating and honoring life and memories rather than mourning. Sometimes sugar skulls are even decorated with the names of the living as a meaningful way of saving their spot in the underworld.

If you're interested in making one, sugar skulls are typically created with a combination of sugar, lemon, and hot water that's mixed into a paste called alfeñique, per Day of the Dead. This mixture is similar to caramel and is perfect for molding into different shapes, skulls included. Sugar skulls may also be made with honey, amaranth, almonds, peanuts, and more.