El Dia de los Muertos (The Day of the Dead) is celebrated in Mexico on November 1st and 2nd. It is a celebration in honor of those who have passed on. In order to celebrate, marigolds and paper flowers are strung and strewn in and around the graveyards. There are parades and feasts as people recall their ancestors. In addition, special altars are created in homes and along roadsides. These alters often have photos, special objects, food, and sugar skulls for the deceased. Sugar skulls are made out of granulated sugar and decorated with brightly colored royal icing, foil, and sometimes beads or glitter. They may even bear a resemblance to the ancestor, or have the ancestor’s name written across the forehead. This all may seem a bit grim, but it is really a celebration of life.
In order to learn about this tradition, we created our own sugar skulls. There is a great company called Mexicansugarskull.com that specializes in sugar skull products. I ordered a medium-sized mold from them. I also took their recommendation and ordered CK meringue powder, instead of the brand available at local stores. They have great instructions. I purchased the gel icing coloring from a local store, and I decided not to indulge in any colored foil, although it was very tempting. You can follow their instructions for making the skulls and icing. It is really a good idea to wash your mold after every 4th skull, as it sometimes gets yucky and will not make a good skull shape. We used plastic zip-lock baggies with small holes for the icing.
Here are some guidelines for the activity:
- -These skulls are not really intended to be eaten. Do not eat your skull at the library.
- -Do not lick your fingers because we are sharing the icing. You can lick them after you are all done decorating.
- -Leave your skulls in the activity room until you are ready to leave the library.
It may seem sorta bad to be giving teens such a large amount of sugar, but the skulls are really hard and they don’t actually taste that great. The royal icing becomes rock hard when it is dry. You can tell them to be careful with their teeth… It is a lot of sugar, but also a good opportunity to learn about an interesting holiday and an excuse for everyone to sharpen their icing decorating skills 🙂