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Día de los Muertos

Folk Art


Día de los Muertos is a special occasion for communion between the living and the dead. The rituals, food, and objects, as well as particular practices of remembering the dead, vary throughout Mexico. During late October, the markets of the villages and towns are filled with special handmade items for the fiesta. In fact, some of the most interesting cosas de muertos (things of the dead) are designed to be eaten by the living. Bread in the shape of human bones, sugar-candy skulls, and cardboard coffins poke fun at death. Pulling on a string at the end of a cardboard coffin will open the top and pull up a skull-shaped muerto (dead one) to a sitting position. People from all walks of life are portrayed as calaveras (bones or skeletons.) The professor and the pilot are constructed of papier-mâché in the form of skeletons. In the marketplace, there are 3-foottall candles for lighting the gravesite and cempaszuchitl (marigold-like flowers) whose petals traditionally are strewn to guide the dead on the path to the family home.


The tradition of the calavera as a central icon for the celebration of Día de los Muertos is thought to echo the Aztec skulls elaborately decorated for use as masks or offerings. The sugar skull is a form of calavera that is widely available in the marketplace. Made of sugar and water and decorated with reflective eyes and facial markings made of icing, the sugar skull has a place on the top for your name. In eating your own skull, the thought is that you become a compadre (companion) of death rather than its adversary. Sugar is also used to construct various animals who will accompany the dead on their journey to and from Mictlan, the place of the dead.


A striking awareness of death is displayed in graffiti and ornaments that decorate cars and buses. Newspapers revel in accounts of violent deaths, and obituaries are framed with conspicuous black borders. The suffering Savior is portrayed with bloody vividness. Mexican poetry is filled with similes comparing life's fragility to a dream, a flower, a river, or a passing breeze. Death is described as awakening from a dream-like existence.

--Credo entry from Encyclopedia of Death and the Human Experience

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Explore More Folk Art

Here are some resources to learn more about the arts associated with Dia de los Muertos

Tree of Life Ceramics

                                                    Tree of Life by Aurelio Flores

Mexican Tree of Life is the name given to a hand-coiled pottery sculpture depicting the biblical Tree of Life; traditionally the tree sculpture would include Adam and Eve with the tempting Serpent but the themes have evolved and today is common to find trees about various subjects such as Day of the Dead and Folk Art.

--Credo entry from Mexican Folk Art Guide 

Must access on campus or have DOM ID for off-campus access