Sugar Skulls are Not Halloween Costumes


Day of the Dead Sugar skulls for sale on the side of the street in the Mission District, San Francisco. (COURTESY OF YESICA VIA FLICKR)


When the leaves turn from green to orange and red, I can only anticipate one thing: Halloween. And while we can be whoever we want to be on that day, there are individuals that use it as an opportunity to appropriate other cultures. The way these people, even some at our own school, have gone about celebrating this holiday has caused me to feel unsettled. Recently, I’ve noticed a trend among my classmates who paint their faces as sugar skulls even though their cultures don’t celebrate El Dia de Los Muertos (The Day of the Dead). Although the holidays of The Day of the Dead and Halloween may seem alike at first glance, Halloween doesn’t have the same religious seriousness that El Dia de Los Muertos does. So before you consider being a sugar skull for Halloween, just hear me out.

It’s true that sugar art and sugar itself did not originate in Mexico. They, along with the religion of Catholicism, were brought to Mexico through colonization. Still, due to the mixing of European and indigenous cultures,  new and very unique traditions arose in Mexico. El Dia de Los Muertos is one of those traditions. The holiday, which has since carried over to other Spanish-speaking countries in Latin America, is on November 1st and 2nd when the gates of heaven are believed to be open and the dead are allowed to come back to the earth to celebrate. No, not as zombies, but as spirits. Sugar skulls will have the name of a loved one painted on their foreheads in order to represent those deceased individuals, and this is something that isn’t typically done by those who simply paint sugar skulls for the aesthetic value. Although it is a celebration and not a holiday of mourning, El Dia de Los Muertos is taken seriously and people will spend huge amounts of money to honor their dead loved ones. These expenses are for food and flowers that are placed on an altar, or the deceased’s tombstone, for the spirits to enjoy.

Sure, it’s unrealistic to expect everyone to naturally know the significance behind the holiday and the value behind sugar skulls–most people will only focus on how pretty and unique sugar skulls are and won’t even bother with their significance. But we live in world where information is easily accessible. All it takes is a trip to the Google search bar. Upon seeing that it’s a part of a serious holiday, I would hope that most people would realize that a Halloween skull and a sugar skull are not the same, and should therefore not be used the same way. One is for pure aesthetics while the other usually has sentimental value. This sentimental value is stripped away when someone decides to use a sugar skull as a costume. Oftentimes, it’s downright disrespectful.

For people who do know the difference and choose to be a sugar skull anyway, the excuse is that they are celebrating Mexican culture. This is a bit hypocritical considering the way that Mexicans are often viewed in this country. Take a look at what Donald Trump said about many of us being rapists and that he would build a wall at the border. Or look at how Kelly Osborne “defended” us by saying, “If you kick every Latino out of this country, then who is going to be cleaning your toilet, Donald Trump?” The stereotypes they express certainly don’t represent how everyone in the country views us as a whole, but the fact that these kinds of ideas can be displayed so prominently in the media shows that we are far from being fully accepted, or even respected. So why is it okay that every other day of the year Mexicans are treated a certain way but on Halloween suddenly our culture should be celebrated purely because it’s pretty?

Celebrating other cultures isn’t inherently a bad thing, but taking aspects of traditions out of context is.  Also, I’m sorry, but if it isn’t part of your culture, you have no business blatantly parading it around as a costume. I just hope we can all stick to being goblins and wizards this Halloween.