Things I Learned on Google: “Calaveras”

We’ve already established that I am a totally crap Mexican. Therefore, I end up Googling my own cultural history more often than not and this is one of those times. Since it’s Halloween again this year and I am, once again, in the great white North, I decided to arm myself with a little education for the coming storm. And no, white friends I have absolutely no authority to say whether or not your calaveras make-up is racist, except that it probably is and no, I don’t get to make the rules. You do. Which is why it’s racist. (More about that here)

Anyway, while Googling I learned some things about the Mexican sugar skull that everybody else probably knows, but I didn’t and so here they are.

  • Sugar is not native to Mexico. It was brought to the country with colonization, and was used instead of clay by the poor native Mexicans who had an abundance of sugar but no money for expensive statues or figurines for their Day of the Dead alters. [Source]
  • Other Catholic countries celebrate the two days after Halloween as All Souls Day and All Saints Day, but the European versions of this holiday are not the same owing to the fact that indigenous Mexicans melded aspects of their traditional Day of the Dead and the Catholic holiday of vaguely similar theme. [Source]
  • The Day of the Dead can be traced back to a celebration of the Aztec goddess Mictecacihuatl, the Lady of the Dead who was said to have been sacrificed to the underworld as an infant where she grew to adulthood in death. [Source]
  • This is a two day holiday, with the first day dedicated to all the children who have died, and the second to all the adults. Despite this sad theme, the tone of the holiday is bright and happy since our dead relatives are with us again.
  • The celebration is most common in Central and South Mexico, and wasn’t celebrated or even well known in the Northern region until migration brought the tradition in the 20th century. [Source]
  • The phrase “Dia de los Muertos” is actually an anglophone back-translation of “Day of the Dead” into Spanish from English. The proper way to say this holiday’s name is “Dia de Muertos

I’m sure about half of this is wrong. Although it does actually make me feel a little better that I have no clue about the Day of the Dead. By all accounts, my family is from Baja and moved to America in the 20th century. Although those accounts, like me, are probably crap so who even knows.

2 comments

  1. Aldo

    This is awesome. I’ve been doing SO much research on it myself too because my family is from Sonora, the first state under AZ so we only celebrated Día de Muertos by going to the cemetery and praying the rosario for all of our dead relatives. Took forever.

    • marina

      Yeah, now that it’s a thing I feel like I really need to know what I’m talking about for when white people ask me about their Halloween makeup choices. Which I do appreciate.