Sugar Skull and the Marigold

The Day of the Dead Festival

The Day of the Dead festival, observed primarily in Mexico's south and center on November 1 and 2, is marked by the use of the iconic sugar skull. The occasion honors and pays tribute to departed family members and forefathers.

(Brandes 183).

The Sugar Skull

It also goes by the name Calaveras. Although clay is occasionally used, the sugar skull is fashioned from sugar, also known as Alfeniques in Mexico. It is very colorfully made to resemble a human skull using edible sugars and icing. Some of the skulls are decorated with glitters, hats, feathers and other objects to make them more personal. The name of the deceased is written on the skull's forehead. The sugar skulls are then placed on beautiful alters called Ofrendas which are decorated with flowers, candles and pictures of the loved ones including the favorite foods and drinks of those being remembered when they were alive.

The Significance of the Sugar Skull

The sugar skull holds great value to the people of Mexico, particularly because the holiday, and the sugar skull is meant to unite people regardless of their differences. The Calaveras are especially meant to remember the children who passed away, thus it is a day for the family to come together under one roof, which is the home of the deceased child and celebrate the life that the child lived. Socially and psychologically, the memory of the child could trigger a sense of belonging and is more likely to strengthen the family bond that exists.

The Origins of Honoring the Dead

In the Mexican culture, honoring the dead has been a practice that dates back to the 17th century where skulls were created to honor the dead and were placed on alters. Also, images of skulls and skeletons exhibited on the Pre-Colombian times paintings and pottery signified the rebirth of the soul into the next stage of life (Turner n.p). The skull represents the positive side of life and according to the Mexican culture after death, one's soul moves to a higher level of conscience. Therefore, the Mexican tradition takes the skull not only as a symbol of death but as a symbol of rebirth. The flowers decorations around the eyes represent life, while the cobwebs symbolize death. The burning candles placed inside the eyes symbolize remembrance. The roots of the celebration of the day of the Dead are traced back to Aztecs and the festival dedicated to the goddess Mictecacihuatl. The idea of the culture was to celebrate the good times that the deceased lived rather than mourn their death unlike other cultures. This explains why the sugar skulls are decorated to appear as if they are smiling, a show of happiness and celebration for the dead.

The Importance of Marigolds

Marigolds are flowers of mix of orange, red, yellow, maroon and cream which grow best in the zones 9-11. They were considered the sacred flowers of the Aztecs which journeyed the Atlantic two times for over 3000 miles, a testimony of their rugged durability. The early people of Aztecs attributed marigold to magic, religion and medicine. The first recorded use of the plant was in 1552 in the treatment of hiccups, being struck by lightning, or anyone who wished to cross water safely. The Aztecs bred marigolds in large blooms. They were later on spread to other areas including North Africa and Spain.

Traditional Uses of Marigolds

In Mexico, the marigold seeds have been used over many years for treating intestinal worms. The roots and leaves are used to make laxative tea for stomach pains. They are also edible in salads or cooked with rice to add color. In addition, they are used in Mexico to feed chickens because they are thought to produce healthier eggs with deeper color (Sowbhagya 124). They were also used for decorative purposes. The marigolds which are native to South America were highly regarded for their healing properties and both Mayan and Aztec communities used the plant to honor spirits and gods. In modern-day Mexico, the plant serves as a symbol for Los Diaz de Los Muertos, as the fragrance is said to guide spirits from graves to houses so that the loved ones can find their way back home. Gravestones which have marigolds placed on them are said to offer protection.

Marigolds in the Day of the Dead

The marigolds are used to mark the day of the dead on the first and second days of November in honoring the people who have died. In ancient times, the marigold was used to honor Mictecacihuatl, the goddess of death and the dead. The Spanish people tried hard to get rid of the festivals and the use of marigolds was limited (Felger 198). However, later on, the flower was transported worldwide and is grown all over the world in hot and humid climates. They are popular for their resilience in climates where most herbs do not thrive. The plants have a variety of other uses including making food additives, insect repellents, and ornaments due to the rich color.

Works Cited

Brandes, Stanley. "Iconography in Mexico's day of the dead: Origins and meaning."

Ethnohistory (1998): 181-218.

Felger, Richard. "The Pteridophytes of Mexico." Economic Botany. 59.2 (2005): 198-199

. Print

Sowbhagya, Halagur B., et al. "Effect of pretreatments on extraction of pigment from

Marigold flower." Journal of food science and technology 50.1 (2013): 122-128.

Turner, Kay, and Pat Jasper. Day of the Dead: The Tex/Mex Tradition. Guadalupe

Cultural Arts Center, 1988

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