The Sugar Skulls or Calaveras, have a very ancient history in Mexico.
They are offered to the dead at the ritual altar but they are also sweets for children.
Skulls like skeletons, since pre-Columbian times, are positive symbols of rebirth.
Because sugar skulls are symbols of rebirth
But let’s go in order.
In this celebration of the dead so colourful and full of meaning, the privileged place is given to human bones but more specifically to skulls (the seat of all our human actions), shaped with water and sugar.
Tradition tells us that from midnight on October 31st, the gates of Paradise open and the spirits of the dead can come down to reunite with their families for 24 hours and enjoy the festivities.
How to welcome the Dead
The altars are prepared in every house with wild flowers, candles, food, fruit, hot chocolate, soda bottles and water for tired spirits. For children’s spirits also toys and candies.
For the spirits of adults cigarettes and alcohol.
Usually these altars are placed in the living room or dining room where the whole family usually gather.
You have to represent the four elements: water, air, earth and fire.
The passage of the dead to the land of the living must find the whole family united.
Tradition wants to tell us that we are all connected and each of us protects and is protected from the others.
On the altars there are obviously skeletons and skulls of coloured sugar.
The most commonly known skulls are shaped into sugar paste rarely flavoured with vanilla. They can also be made of chocolate.
The Calaveritas de azucar or sugar skulls are really simple: water, sugar and kitchen dyes.
The sugar skulls symbolize rebirth
On November 2nd everyone goes to the cemetery to clean the graves, play cards, listen to the bands playing.
It is a moment that makes everyday life spiritual and earthly that of the dead.
The passage is playful, festive. The same sugar skulls as the representations of the skeletons have nothing sad about them.
The reunion with death is strongly optimistic and full of positive meanings.
The sugar skulls or Calaveras, symbolize the rebirth and protection of the dead for those who are still alive.
Death is positive because it announces a better condition, an open and confident way towards a better life, even earthly.
Because I love sugar skulls
Enchanted by these colours, by pre-Columbian myths, by the traditions of the South, I conceived two scarves inspired by sugar skulls.
In the south of the world death takes on very strong contours.
In the case of Mexico, the colours and stylized shapes decorate the skulls until they become like jewels.
Very different from the south of Italy, where the black of mourning and pain predominates. The only note of colour are the flowers taken to the cemetery, but in the cemetery itself there is only silence and sadness.
Pain doesn’t laugh like sugar skulls or Calaveras.
This consideration of death so artistic was an opportunity to create something truly unique.
In Mexico the symbol that scares us the most, the skull, like the whole skeleton, becomes a toy, a jewel, a sculpture, a mask, even a tattoo.
In Mexico life goes on: you drink, you eat, you laugh, you play.
Skulls and skeletons are objects that can be eaten or left as decoration: skulls tell us that we must be reborn and that in death we must find the deep meaning of life. But with confidence, with optimism.
Why represent sugar skulls on a scarf
My intention was to portray the sugar skulls in a cheerful, festive crowd. And simple and festive just like those who decorate the altars.
Our body is a temple itself, and wearing a scarf with sugar skulls reminds us of the power of tradition and above all of living our lives with more awareness, which is elusive.
A scarf with many Mexican skulls that cry out for life, that defeats death, that even tells us that our dead protect us.
Perhaps for us Europeans this concept is a little more difficult to understand, because we associate death with loss.
But in Mexico, the gates of Paradise open and there is always the possibility to dialogue with the dead, in a continuous flow where past, present and future flow together.
The sugar skulls and the Catrina as political satire
In my colourful search for skeletons and sugar skulls, I also focused on the art of José Guadalupe Posada, who depicted the Calavera Catrina or “the skull of the Great Lady“, that is the skeleton of a woman dressed in western dress, with a hat full of ostrich feathers.
The Calavera Catrina scarf and art
This second skeleton scarf has a different meaning.
It takes its cue from the satire of José Guadalupe Posada who criticizes Mexican society and its urge to grotesquely emulate European habits.
This skull adorned with feathers expresses political and social malaise.
The Calavera Catrina has a decorated skull and a skeletal body richly adorned with European clothing.
And she also decorates the altars of the Mexicans in a more stylized way.
Death here may represent the death of society, of Mexican traditions, of the uniqueness of a very ancient people.
But all very decorated, very colorful and festive.
The Calavera Catrina is a symbol like the sugar skulls of the Dia de Los Muertos.
But a scarf like this one doesn’t necessarily have to be worn at that time.
Perhaps fashion has distorted certain traditions, or perhaps it wants to recover them.
As far as I’m concerned, every scarf tied to skeletons and skulls has a precise message of rebirth.
And I use both to remind myself and others that life is a breath, and that we must love it. Even with its contradictions.
And perhaps I also intend to make peace with those dead who in our tradition do not dialogue, while in Mexico they are present and passionate like us who still live.
Wearing a scarf with skulls is an extreme, important act of life. Even revolutionary, in my opinion.
The Calavera looks like a caricature but reminds us that life and death are closely intertwined.
And it is not only about life as we understand it, it is also about the traditions and politics of every people.
Vanity, worldliness, everything is temporary, everything passes, death belongs to life, life to death.
And a scarf with skulls continues this magical flow through generations.