How to make sugar skulls for Día de los Muertos

One of the most common decorations on altars for Day of the Dead is the sugar skull. You might not know how easy they are to make; they just require a little time (drying overnight) and patience (decorating with royal icing). I’ve put together a detailed tutorial with photos so you can see how easy it is!

You can even do this project with the kids—but be sure to use a drop cloth in case they make a mess with the sugar.

Ingredients to make sugar skulls for Day of the Dead

Tutorial how to make sugar skulls for Day of the Dead

You can see my full step-by-step photo tutorial of how to make sugar skulls for Day of the Dead on latinamom.me…. 

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Celebrating Día de Los Muertos

¡Feliz Día de Los Muertos!

Today is a day to celebrate the lives of our deceased loved ones. We keep the tradition alive in our house by constructing an altar to honor them, and leaving ofrendas—offerings—to entice the souls home.

You can visit my Día de Los Muertos post from last year if you’d like to see the altar we made in 2010.

This holiday goes back more than 3,000 years to the time of the Aztecs. Originally, it was celebrated in the ninth month of the Aztec calendar (what is now August). When the conquistadores arrived from Spain and felt the month-long celebrations of Día de Los Muertos mocked death, and being that they wanted to convert the native people to honor their own religion, they tried to put a stop to the ritual. But they were met with resistance and instead, the ritual was moved to coincide with the Christian calendar’s All Saints Day (Nov. 1) and All Souls Day (Nov. 2).

Today, many who celebrate this holiday use el Día de Todos los Santos to honor deceased children and Día de Los Muertos for honoring adults. There is no wrong way to do it, though, and you can honor whomever you like on both days if you wish. In some places in Mexico, families visit cemeteries, clean and decorate grave sites and leave their ofrendas there. Many families, like ours, build an altar in their home.

There’s also no wrong way to make an altar—there are common methods (constructing three levels) and typical ofrendas (offerings that represent earth, wind, water and fire), but the point is that you make the altar personal and meaningful to you to honor your deceased loved ones.

I haven’t talked about it here on the blog, but in September, José’s last living grandparent, my suegro‘s mother, passed away in Aguascalientes. Abuelita Ana was 91 years old, and we flew to Mexico to be there with family for the velatorio and entierro. It has been a sad time for our family, but being together with everyone in Mexico made it a little easier. This year our altar is especially dedicated to her memory.

It was difficult when I was going through photos trying to decide which photo of her to use, but definitely therapeutic in a way once I was finished. This year, I even purchased special sugar skulls for my ofrenda from the famous Mondragon family of Toluca; they are one of less than a dozen families in Mexico still dedicated to the art form of alfeñique, and you can read more about them on my post from the other day.

To me, el Día de Los Muertos is one of the most beautiful and meaningful holidays not only in Mexico, but in the world. Tomorrow, I’ll share more about the individual elements on my altar and what they mean, but for today, just a few photos and a short video so you can check it out.

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  • What do you leave as ofrendas on your altar de muertos?

Calaveritas de Mondragon para Día de Los Muertos

I recently visited the National Museum of Mexican Art, located in the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago, on a special mission: I was hoping to buy calaveras de azúcar for my altar de muertos. But not just any calaveras—I was hoping to buy handmade and hand-decorated calaveras from the famous Mondragon family.

Sugar skulls are truly an art form and the Mondragon family from Toluca, Mexico, has been making hand-decorated sugar skulls for around 150 years, spanning five generations. They’ve been coming to the museum to make them in Chicago since 1995 as a way for people to hang on to their culture so far from home and to share Mexican tradition and culture, they told me.

Sugar skulls are often used as a decoration for an altar de muertos or given as gifts for Día de Los Muertos. It’s common to also put the names of family members on the forehead of the sugar skull. Some families only put names of the deceased, while others put names of the living on them as well.

Alejandro Mondragon Arriaga and his wife Elvira Garcia Zinzu travel with one of their daughters to Chicago to make their famous sugar skulls at the museum every year while the rest of the family stays behind in Mexico to make them there. Their family is one of less than a dozen left who are dedicated to this traditional craft, Elvira told me. At one time, she said, there were dozens and dozens of families who made them and sold them all over Mexico…. 

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Wordless Wednesday: Putting away the decorations

Time to put away my calaveritas until next year! If you want to get a head start for Día de Los Muertos in 2011, check out this great post from SA Cultura on offerings to remember to put on your altar as well as a recipe for sugar skulls that look a lot like mine. Bookmark it for next year so you don’t forget!

This photo was taken with my iPhone 3Gs using the ShakeItPhoto app by Banana Camera Co.
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