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Lately, the Mexican skull symbol has been tattooed more often than before and these skulls are a pleasure to the passing eye given that they are so brightly colored and whimsical. What most people don’t know is that these non-mainstream tattoo designs are also called sugar skulls and they hold a high level of symbolic importance to the Mexican custom and beliefs. In fact, the calaveras de azúcar (sugar skulls) are used to celebrate the day of the dead or better the El Día de los Muertos as the Mexicans call it. Initially, this Mexican tradition may seem just like the United States traditio  n of Halloween since, the festivity commences at midnight, the night of October 31st and the celebrations are filled with imagery correlated to death. However, these sugar skulls represent death in a positive manner and this tradition can be traced back to the pre-columbian era which goes back as long as 2500 – 3000 years. In fact, in Mexico, the Aztec culture believed that life on earth was a sort of illusion whilst death, was an optimistic step forward into a higher level of conscience given that for the Aztecs, skulls represented not only death but also rebirth. Indeed, one can say that these skulls represent the notion of death, rebirth, remembrance and spirituality all in one.

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As a matter of fact the Mexicans believe that the gates of heaven are opened at midnight on October 31st, and the spirits of all deceased angelitos (children) are reunited with their families for the next 24 hours. Whilst on November 2nd, the spirits of the adults come down to enjoy the festivities that are organized for them. During such festivities the sugar skulls are by far the most popular symbols used. These brightly colored skulls might also have the name of the deceased on the forehead to encourage the return of that soul on the Day of the Dead. Originally, the sugar skulls were made out of clay molded sugar hence the name however, nowadays they are made of edible sugar and are decorated with stripes, glitter, feathers, beads together with swirls and dots of icing. In fact, the Mexican’s Market stalls are lined with rows of whimsical skulls, created from sugar during this holiday.

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Furthermore, the Marigold (Cempazúchitl) known as the flower of the dead is often incorporated into El Dia de los Muertos sugar skull designs. Given that the Mexicans believe that the scent of Marigolds help guiding back the souls of the departed. Nevertheless, it is important to emphasize that the significance behind  El Dia de los Muertos is not only to remember the dead, but also to prevail over the fear of death and commemorate life. Furthermore, just like most tattoo symbols, the sugar skull tattoo can represent a variety of different meanings. People Mostly opt for this tattoo to commemorate a beloved person that has passed away nevertheless, this symbols holds a far deeper meaning than that. In short, it encourages us to commemorate life and the departed ones rather than, be fearful and dreadful towards death.

Sugar skull tattoo designs are very colorful, flexible and can be decorated in diverse ways. The use of exciting shades and colors appear incredibly eye-catching and any color combination can be used. They are generally designed with an oval shaped skull however; sugar skull tattoos can also portray a realistic skull. In fact, women typically opt for the oval shaped sugar skull tattoo whilst men, lean more toward the realistic skull. Moreover, this tattoo design can portray the eyes in various ways. Some sugar skull tattoo designs portrays the eyes as flowers, jewels, diamonds or candles within the eye sockets of the skull. Other symbols might be included to decorate your tattoo such as hearts, stars, cross, birds and vines. Furthermore, Mexican sugar skull tattoos can be designed in various sizes. However, due to the detail this tattoo entails a larger sized tattoo would be more appropriate. The most common sites for such designs are usually the thigh, the calf, the chest or the shoulder. In short, when it comes to sugar skull tattoo designs, the limits are endless. The rule of thumb is to personalize your design and be unique. Don’t copy someone else’s idea and instead come up with your own.

 

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Author: Alexia Micallef

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