Lydia Greene

Mexican Sugar Skulls Are the Colorful, Spooky Way to Honor Ancestors

Many of us have seen the brightly colored sugar skulls that pop up in Latino neighborhoods and shops around Halloween time. I remember making them in art class in grade school and loving their bright colors and spooky yet celebratory appearance. These Mexican sugar skulls are one of the most central parts of the Mexican holiday Day of the Dead, or Día de los Muertos, and they're more than just eccentric decor!

What Is the Day of the Dead?

Anyone who's seen the movie Coco knows that the Day of the Dead is a huge part of Mexican culture. This holiday is all about honoring one's loved ones who have passed away, and setting aside space and time to welcome them back to the land of the living for a few days of the year.

During these days, there are Day of the Dead celebrations throughout Mexico, involving a parade, singing, and visiting altars, called ofrendas in Spanish, which are specially made to honor the deceased loved ones in mind.

The ofrenda has many elements, some of the most important being pictures of the deceased, marigolds, candles, and traditional food and drink like pan de muerto and mezcal. In Mexico and in Mexican-American neighborhoods in the U.S., one can find altars in the homes and cemeteries during Día de Muerto, which is celebrated on November 2nd, although some consider October 31st and November 1st to be part of it as well.

One of the most important parts of this Mexican holiday is sugar skull art, called alfeñique, which can take the form of skulls, skeletons, crosses, coffins and animals. These colorful sugar sculptures are a way to celebrate the lives of those who have passed, and they add a beautiful, unique touch to the Day of the Dead decor.

Mexican Sugar Skull

Mexican sugar skull

Lydia Greene

Day of the Dead sugar skulls, or Calaveras de azucar in Spanish, are another essential part of an altar. They're essentially mini human skulls made of sugar and decorated with colors and designs. These skulls are often adorned with the name of the deceased on the forehead, as another way to welcome him or her.

These DIY skulls are typically made from meringue powder, egg whites, granulated sugar, water, a sugar skull mold, royal icing, and food coloring. The ingredients can be found on Amazon or in grocery stores, for anyone looking to make their own sugar skull.

The mold size depends on whether you're making a small sugar skull or a large sugar skull, and the food coloring can be any amount of bright colors to decorate this Mexican skull. Here's how to make your own sugar skulls to get into the spirit of the Day of the Dead!?