Growing up in San Diego, sugar skulls, or calaveras, were as much a part of Halloween and its neighbor, Dia de Los Muertos as carved pumpkins and witches.
Celebrated on November 1st and 2nd, Dia de Los Muertos originated in the cultures that lived in what is now Mexico. When the Spanish conquered the Aztecs in the early 16th century, they attempted to convert the indigenous populace to Catholicism. As happens with many efforts at colonization, the results were mixed. The traditional Aztec celebration of Mictecailhuati evolved into Dia de Los Muertos as the Spanish attempted to align the tradition with the Catholic All Saint’s Day. Based on my research, the interpretation of the folk-Catholic cocktail is loosely geographic: South of Mexico City the emphasis is on celebration whereas North of this, the holiday takes on a more religious tone.
As the name suggests, this Mexican holiday is a celebration of remembering and honoring the dead. It is believed that on Dia de Los Muertos, deceased loved ones are allowed to return to earth and celebrate with their families. Or, in true guilt-based family fun, harass those families who have neglected their dearly departed.
Sugar skulls are an important symbol of Dia de Los Muertos. Traditionally molded from sugar (or clay), they are sold and made in the days leading up to the celebration and then exchanged as gifts to living and dead alike. Intricately decorated with bright colors and an emphasis on sparkle, they are meant to be happy rather than scary.
When I found a skull-shaped cookie cutter over the summer, I knew it was time to make some sugar (cookie) skulls of my own. I used my never fail sugar cookie recipe and Sugarbelle’s never EVER fail recipe for royal icing. While I give myself a C+ for decorating prowess (I quickly found my decorating tips weren’t nearly fine-enough for detail work), it was serious A+ fun.
Next year? Sugar skull decorating party at my house! How fun wold it be to base-glaze these babies, invite a bunch of friends over, add some adult beverages and go to town with the crazy colors and themes?
Speaking of holidays…my holiday baking regime kicks-off this weekend. I’m not kidding. Stay-tuned for a Tuesday post about this year’s “contest.”
And of course, Happy Halloween and Dia de Los Muertos.