Skull Talk: Día de los Muertos

The recent harvest contains seeds of spring but the fields lie fallow. The barrier between life and death feels
transparent, and even permeable.


Skulls are part of the scary images seen in North America on Halloween where traditions reflect our fear of the dark, goblins, ghosts, and death. But in Mexico, skulls are used as a design motif throughout the festival of “Day of the Dead” where they appear bright, colorful, and often comic.

“Día de los Muertos” is celebrated on November 1st and 2nd. The spirits of loved ones are invited to return for the occasion and are enticed with the aromas of the foods they enjoyed most on earth. “Pan de muertos,” a sweet bread, is baked for the occasion and gifts of sugar skulls are presented to recipients both living and dead. It is believed the spirits will consume the essence of these offerings and the living can then enjoy what remains. The treats are put out on tables and alters erected in honor of the deceased. Along with the treats, people put out photos, mementos, and marigolds, whose scent is thought to encourage the return of the departed. Another feature of the festivities is a type of humorous poem written for individuals called a “calavera,” the Spanish word for skull. 

For the Mexican people “El Día de los Muertos” is a time of joy. It is a time to reconnect with family and friends who have passed on. And it is an opportunity to reflect upon, affirm, and celebrate the continuum of all life: physical and transient, spiritual and eternal, past, present, and future. 


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Catherine D’Andrea
Associate Editor