What Is the History of the Mexican Sugar Skulls Tradition?


Quick Answer

Mexicans began using sugar skulls in the 18th century, during the country's colonial period. The history of sugar skulls intertwines with the history of sugar art and Mexico's celebration of the dead.

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Full Answer

The first people to produce pieces of sugar art were Italian Catholics, who used sugar to form religious figurines, such as lambs and angels. This form of art began around the 17th century. Because Spaniards introduced sugar to Mexico as early as the 16th century, most Mexicans had access to sugar, facilitating the use of sugar in art.

Before Europeans landed in Mexico, Native Americans already performed rites honoring the dead using skulls. When the Spaniards arrived, they attempted to convert the native Mexicans to Catholicism. However, the result was a syncretism of Catholic and Aztec beliefs. This manifested itself in the celebration of All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day, which incorporated many of the existing Day of the Dead traditions. For example, Mexicans began using sugar to design skull decorations for their festivals.

Gradually, the skulls' designs became more complex. In the 19th century, skulls began to bear the names of deceased persons on their foreheads. Later, the skulls became more colorful and extravagant, incorporating the traditional marigold color as well as other yellow and orange motifs.

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