When it comes to Dia de Los Muertos, there’s no trick-or-treating. Latinos know that there are a lot of Hispanic traditions that we kinda sorta have to be into. While our ancestors used careteas, or masks, to scare the dead away at the end of their festivities, today we paint our faces to look like skulls that represent a deceased loved one. A lot of people associate Dia de Los Muertos with Halloween, but they are not the same. It’s okay to dress up Dia de Los Muerto style for Halloween but if you’re going to do it you should know the history behind this tradition.
How Did Face Paintings Originate?
One major element of Dia de los Muertos is la calavera de azucar, which is a sugar skull. These skulls are molded out of, you guessed it, sugar and decorated with icing, glitter, feathers, and much more. Recently, people have started to paint their faces to resemble these calaveras de azucar and some of them are pretty freaking good. These face paintings are culturally beautiful, have significant meaning, and are a way to celebrate the lives of those who have passed on. The designs of these skulls include a mixture of Aztec and European symbolism while keeping with the tradition of Catholic beliefs and the religions of indigenous Mexican people.
So the face painting itself is not exactly an ancient tradition but the Calavera design is quite old. Skulls are an essential part of symbolism in Mexico. Back in the year of el Caldo, the Aztecs believed that life on earth was something of an illusion. They believed that death was a positive step forward into a higher level of consciousness. So skulls were a positive symbol of not only death but also of rebirth. The skull face paintings are a chance to get in touch with your mischievous side and get tons of likes on Instagram, of course.
Como La Flor
Flowers are also very important on Dia de los Muertos. Many skulls include flowers such as the marigold, or cempazúchitl, which is known as the flower of the dead. The Aztecs believed that this flower was sacred to Mictlantecuhtli, the god of the dead. It’s also believed that when the souls of the deceased return, the strong scent of the marigold flower guides them back to their families. When our spirit comes back, just guide us in with a carnita asada or some delicious pozole. Okay, now we’re hungry, BRB.
La Calavera Catrina
If you’re looking for something a little more bad and boujee, la Calavera Catrina is the skull for you. La Calavera Catrina has grown into an important Dia de Los Muertos tradition. This elegant skull was created in 1913 by José Guadalupe Posada. He depicted this figure as a wealthy lady in an oversized hat, reminding everyone that even the rich and beautiful carry death within themselves. In today’s culture, la Calavera Catrina is an inspiration, or influencer if you will, for women’s skull face paintings. It’s scary and beautiful all at once.
Latinas try to stick to the five main colors: pink, purple, red, white, and yellow. Pink represents happiness while purple represents mourning, grief, and suffering. Red represents blood and life. Using white in your decorations represents spirit, hope, and purity. And finally yellow represents the sun and unity, because, under the sun, we are all the same.
Try It Yourself
So now that you boned up on your history, try out a face painting on yourself! An important thing to remember is that 1) these face paintings aren’t meant to be scary and 2) greasepaint from the Halloween store is for clowns, not calaveras. Halloween store face paint is gooey and never seems to set so we recommend water-based theatrical makeup. Oh, one more thing: don’t overthink it! It’s literally like applying your makeup. And if all else fails, half-ass it, literally. Symmetry is challenging, so if you can’t get both sides of your face to match up, just paint half of your face like a skull and the other half like the living.