PHOENIX — The Day of the Dead is here and one of its most beloved symbols is the sugar skull. These colorful designs are represented in everything from candy and jewelry to tattoos and face paint. 

The roots of Dia de los Muertos go back some 3,000 years. This Mexican holiday,  observed Nov. 1-2, is a joyful celebration of the lives of family and friends who have passed away. Traditions like traveling to burial grounds, cooking food, decorating graves and hosting gatherings are among the many ways people honor Dia de los Muertos. 

Over the years, the rituals have been adopted and adapted by cultures around the world.

 Here’s everything to know about what sugar skulls signify and how to make your own. 

What is a sugar skull?

Day of the Dead sugar skulls.

According to, a website that sells handmade Day of the Dead crafts and promotes the holiday’s rituals, sugar skulls — calaveras de azúcar in Spanish — are traditional folk art from southern Mexico.

They are used as symbols to remember a person who has passed. Sugar skulls are made of a granulated white sugar mixture that’s pressed into skull-shaped molds and then decorated. 

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What is the meaning behind the sugar skull?

Each sugar skull represents a departed loved one and is usually placed on an altar — an ofrenda — or even a gravestone as an offering to the spirit of the dead. Sugar skulls are often decorated with the person’s name.

“It’s the act of creating something dedicated to the memory of a person or even a pet, someone or something that you love and miss, that helps you revive their spirit,” said Michele Delgado, a computer science teacher and sugar skull maker. “When you lose people that you love, those moments that you have with them are when they were alive, so it’s important to enjoy those.”

Delgado, who teaches her students how to make sugar skulls to honor their heroes, family members, public figures and events, says making sugar skulls is a great way to bring people together. 

“It’s a great community activity, family and friends getting together to dedicate (sugar skulls) to what they are seeking to remember and honor,” she said. 

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