Roger Thayer Stone Center For Latin American Studies

Tulane University

Day of the Dead 2020 - Papel Picado Tutorial

Learn how to create your own papel picado, a traditional paper art found during the Day of the Dead. In this video tutorial, New Orleans artist Cynthia Ramirez, professor at Southern University of New Orleans walks us through how to create your own papel picado. Recorded October, 2020.

Explore el Día de los Muertos with our online curriculum Day of the Dead Across the Americas. The introduction to the unit is below.

Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a celebration of ancestors found throughout Latin America. Día de los Muertos is celebrated differently throughout Latin America, with the Mexican traditions being most familiar to US residents. Día de los Muertos, celebrated on November 1st and 2nd, is celebrated on All Saints and All Souls Days, an important part of Catholic traditions. Other aspects of the tradition come from pre-Hispanic roots, in Mexico, or influence of west African cultures, in much of the Caribbean.

Día de los Muertos is a time of remembrance and celebration of departed ancestors. It is a family holiday where people gather to remember loved ones and celebrate them. One of the most important traditions is the construction of altars to the dead. The altars are constructed in homes, in public places, and in cemeteries. Families also go to cemeteries to clean and decorate the graves of loved ones. In some places, people spend the night at the cemeteries in all-night celebrations.

Altars traditionally include items such as the favorite food and drink of the people the altar is dedicated to, representations of skulls (these can be made of sugar, paper, or any other sort of material), bread, pan de muertos, in the shape of bones and skulls, papel picado, cut paper, and Calaveras, or representations of skeletons. In Mexico, marigolds are traditionally used for decoration due to their smell. They were associated with death in pre-hispanic times and that association continues. The items placed on the altar are called ofrendas, or offerings.

Calavaras, or skeleton representations, come in many forms and styles. The term calavaras is also used to refer to the work of Jose Guadalupe Posada (1852-1913). Posada, a famous Mexican artist and political cartoonist, is most well-known for his representations of skeletons dressed in fancy cloths which were meant to satirize upper class individuals. These representations have been adapted for use in Day of the Dead traditions, particularly his famous Calavera Catrina, a female skeleton wearing a large floppy hat.

The Mexican Día de los Muertos tradition is based in large part on Aztec traditions. The Aztec, a people who lived in Central Mexico (Figure 1) at the time of the Spanish Conquest of Mexico, celebrated a feast to honor their ancestors that occurred around the same time as All Saints and All Souls Day. These two traditions were mixed together and became the tradition we now associate with Día de los Muertos, a syncretic tradition. The Aztec celebration which occurred around this time was dedicated to the goddess Mictecacihuatl who ruled over the land of the dead with her husband.

Read more here.