Day of the Dead
My Day of the Dead artworks are among my most popular, so I thought I'd create this section on Art is Fun to help explain what this holiday means and why I find it to be an uplifting artistic inspiration.
In short, Day of the Dead, called Dia de los Muertos in Spanish, is a Mexican holiday that falls on November 1 and 2 of each year. On the Day of the Dead, the boundaries between life and death begin to blur. Men, women and children of all ages honor and celebrate their loved ones who have passed away, participating joyously in a festival that has roots nearly 4000 years old.
The holiday has spread in recent years from Mexico to America and beyond. It is now celebrated by Mexicans, Mexican-Americans, and countless others, spawning a colorful and distinctive artistic tradition that continues to inspire.
Note: I created these pages to help introduce people to Day of the Dead after so many people kept asking me what my sugar skull art was all about. These pages are not intended to be an academic or anthropological study of the Dia de los Muertos holiday and ensuing cultural phenomenon, so if you're conducting academic research, I suggest you consult published books or articles.
About Day of the Dead
Day of the Dead Art
Day of the Dead Activities
More about the Day of the Dead
Day of the Dead art is alive with smiling skulls in kaleidoscope colors, doused in a deluge of decorative and detailed designs. It is a vibrant art of colors and chaos. Look at the skull art on this page. What do you see: evil skull drawings or benelovent beings? Sweet or sinister smiles? The answer may depend on how you interpret death.
Day of the Dead artwork is not meant to be scary. Just the opposite - this artwork is meant to celebrate the spirit and honor the memory of those who have passed. Day of the Dead is known as "Dia de los Muertos" in Spanish. It is a Latin American holiday falling on November 1 and 2 of every year (similar to the Catholic All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day). On these two special days, Latin American families and friends gather to celebrate, honor, remember and pray for their departed loved ones. November 1 honors departed children and November 2 honors adults.
To celebrate the deceased is to accept that death is an inevitable part of life. Life and death are two sides of the same coin — life cannot exist without death, and vice versa. As Day of the Dead approaches, in Mexico and other Latin American countries they build altars in their homes and in public places to honor their loved ones. These altars are decorated using sugar skulls, marigolds, candles, Christian crosses, images or statues of the Virgin Mary, and photos of the departed, as well as their favorite foods and beverages.
Skulls (known as calaveras) are ubiquitous in Day of the Dead celebrations. They are the ultimate symbol of mortality. Underneath our fleshy exterior, our very earthly existence depends upon this skeletal foundation. Therefore Day of the Dead art revolves around imagery of skulls and skeletons in many states and forms: dancing, cooking, smiling, and playing banjo, for example. The belief is that our personalities and identities carry on into the afterlife. So when a person buys an image or statue of a skeleton baking bread and places it on an altar in honor of their aunt who was a baker, the image is said to help the dead soul find her way back to the altar where she can commune with her relatives. This is why there are numerous depictions of skeletons engaged in various specific activities.
In Latin America, there is the belief that on the Day of the Dead, the portals between this world and the world of the dead are more open, allowing for easier contact between the living and the dead. This makes it the opportune time to try to communicate with those who have passed. As such, Day of the Dead is also a reflective time.
Death can be a touchy subject. To many people it's a scary prospect, because no one knows what happens after death. We all have our own personal beliefs, based on our culture, society, and family upbringings, as well as our own personal intellectual, emotional and spiritual inclinations. Some schools of thought invoke a fear of death, while other cultures and philosophies accept death as an inevitable part of the cycle of life. Nothing and no one is free from the fingers of death. It will, throughout our lives, affect us all in intimate ways... until we ultimately meet our own end.
Day of the Dead art counteracts any feelings of doom and gloom relating to mortality. Such artwork is often colorful and lively, sometimes whimsically macabre. Day of the Dead art is ironically full of life. To those of us who did not grow up in Latin American culture, Day of the Dead art rejuvenates our common Western perception of death by presenting a view of the afterlife that is full of energy and spirit, one worthy of joy and celebration. It brings with it the hope that after death, there will still be another tomorrow.
If these sugar skulls tickle your fancy, check out my printable sugar skull coloring pages!