The Sweet Part of Day of the Dead
Day of the Dead celebration in Mexico has been present since the pre-Hispanic era. However, just like many current traditions, this tradition has a fusion with the Spanish colonization. Spaniards replaced some of the original, so-called pagan elements. Such is the case of the SUGAR SKULLS that appear now in the altars. They are one of the most outstanding icons of this tradition.
For the ancient Mesoamerica dwellers, it was very common to make the called “tzompantli.” They were altars to honor their gods, especially Mictlantecuhtli, their underworld god. Tzompantli had hundreds of piled up craniums belonging to sacrificed people. With the arrival of the Spaniards and the colonization, these traditions were omitted. Instead of setting up offerings with human craniums, they developed the technique of “ALFEÑIQUE.”
The alfeñique is a kind of caramel. Sugar cane is melted with hot water and lime to create a very malleable paste. With these paste, you can make a wide variety of figures, the skulls among them. In present days, every state of Mexico has its own and particular way to do it.
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There is another interesting fact of the sugar skulls. They feature the name of a person on the forehead. There are two theories to explain this. One is that you have to write the name of the dead person you are honoring. Also, there are those who think it must be the name of a family member or friend still alive. That way, they will have a safe place in the life after death, according to ancient beliefs.
With these sugar skulls we remember those gone before us, but also we keep our beautiful and peerless traditions alive. This Day of the Dead, do not hesitate to purchase them and help a local artisan still working the traditional alfeñique technique, especially in the states still running the original recipe: Guanajuato, Morelos and the State of México.