African Mask Stands made of wrought iron, steel, wood, acrylic for all types of masks.Museum quality mask stands made custom for you to display your masks.

Zanzibar Home Page    Traditional Mexican Recipes

Building A Day of the Dead Altar    Papel Picado - Mexican Paper Banners

Making Sugar Skulls   The art of José Guadalupe Posada

History and explanation of the Mexican Holiday "Dia de los Muertos" - the Day of the Dead

Sugar Skull Making Class Schedule in Sacramento for Fall of 2013

Dia(s) de los Muertos

the Mexican Day(s) of the Dead

October 31 - November 2

Zanzibar sells a wide selection of dia de los Muertos Art Figures, Skeletons, Skulls, Altars, Catrinas and Catrins, Papel Picado (tissue paper banners), Sugar Skulls, Sugar Skull molds, Paper Mache breads, skull candies, Retablos & more!  We have one of the largest selections of day of the dead items in Sacramento with shipments arriving almost daily in the month of October and scattered throughout the year.  Zanzibar Fair Trade is proud to offer Sacramento's largest selection of Day of the Dead items - and one of the largest selections in all of Northern California.  Our inventory is ALWAYS changing - and the photos on these pages are but a tiny sampling (and may or may not be available). 

Visit our gallery at the corner of 18th & L Streets in Midtown Sacramento.   We carry these figures year round, however our largest selection is always available in the month of October.  If you're a collector and looking for sometime special or from a particular artist, let us know!  Our inventory is ALWAYS changing and usually only a fraction of what we have in stock is on display in our gallery.  Pictures shown here are a sampling of what we usually have.  We do custom orders.  Scroll down for more info on Dias de los Muertos...

Freida Altar by Mexican artist Tomas Castillo of Izucar, Puebla  

      

The Day of the Dead (El Día de los Muertos, Día de los Difuntos or Día de Muertos in Spanish) is a traditional holiday in Mexico and many South American countries.  Based on ancient Aztec mingled with Christian beliefs, this celebration of the memory of deceased ancestors is celebrated beginning at dusk on October 31st through November 1 (All Saints Day) and November 2 (All Souls' Day).  While the dates overlap, it is not connected with Halloween, although it shares some historical origins.  This holiday is quickly gaining popularity in America and could be considered "the new American Holiday".

 

These days and those leading up to them are marked by festive celebrations to honor the dead.  Cemeteries are cleaned and decorated, special food and candies cooked, and home altars are designed in homage to one's ancestors.  It is a day of joyous remembrance, not of sadness.  The foods, toys, figures, decorations, poems, songs and other items created for El Dia de Los Muertos reflect this outlook. 

 

Zanzibar Tribal Art Gallery carries dozens of figures, paper mache and clay skulls, skeleton figures, Fridas, Skeleton Dogs, Cats, and many other items for your day of the dead altar - from inexpensive figures to pieces by master well know artisans.

     
The holiday is especially popular in Mexico where it is a national holiday, however it also celebrated in the Philippines, in Mexican-American communities in the United States, and to a lesser extent, in other Latin American countries.  It is a public holiday in Brazil, where many Brazilians celebrate it by visiting cemeteries and churches, bringing flowers, lighting candles and praying.  Essentially, it is the fastest growing holiday (that isn't an official holiday) in the United States!

       

Though the subject matter may be considered morbid from the Anglo Saxon perspective, Mexicans celebrate the Day of the Dead joyfully, and though it occurs at the same time as Halloween, All Saints' Day and All Souls Day, the traditional mood is much brighter with emphasis on celebrating and honoring the lives of the deceased, rather than fearing evil or malevolent spirits.

   

According to Aztec tradition, one does not mourn for a departed one, for tears will fall on the path the soul must travel and the soul may slip and fall. Contemporary Mexican culture continues this tradition by associating some festive elements with death. The Day of the Dead, primarily celebrated on November 2, is a day set aside to commemorate members of the family who
have died. Preparations must be made to welcome the departed visitor.
 

     

November 2nd is the official date for Day of the Dead, although it is celebrated between October 31st and November 2nd. These dates correspond with the Catholic celebrations of All Saints Day and All Souls Day. This correspondence results from the Catholic Church's efforts to "find similarities between the indigenous and Christian beliefs." This celebration has a complex history that has been transformed through the years. Today the celebration takes place at about the same time ancient corn festivals were celebrated, when food from a plentiful harvest was shared with the deceased. Today different customs vary within different states in Mexico and even from village to village. The best way to describe this holiday is to say it is a time when family members and friends who have died are remembered. In Mexico, this festival is considered to be the most important holiday of the year.

   

Although this celebration is associated with the dead, it is not portrayed as a morbid or depressing time, but rather a period full of life, happiness, color, food, family, and fun. There is excitement everywhere. In many areas, outdoor markets are displayed in which they sell many symbolic goods, such as special breads, flowers, pottery, baskets, candles, paper puppets, candy skulls, etc. The main symbols of this holiday are skulls and skeletons, which are displayed throughout the cities. Scenes of skeletons hugging, marching, dancing, and laughing are seen in window displays on the streets. Marigolds are another significant symbol for the Day of the Dead festivity, and are known as the "flower of the dead." Their scent is believed to "attract the souls and draw them back."

 

People celebrate this holiday in their households, as well as in the cemeteries. In their homes, between Oct. 31st and Nov. 2nd (a time called "Todos Santos"), offerings of food and drink are prepared for the dead. "Ofrendas" (offerings) are often set up in the home on an altar displaying portraits, personal goods, clothing, favorite foods, and possessions of the deceased family member. Sometimes they are shown at the gravesites as well.

   

 On Nov. 2nd, family members visit the gravesites of their loved ones. They decorate their graves with flowers, enjoy picnics consisting of favorite foods of the deceased, and socially interact with others at the cemetery. This is an important social ritual that the Latino people see as "a way of recognizing the cycle of life and death that is human existence." In certain areas, an all-night candlelight vigil takes place by the graves of the family members. The whole occasion is festive, and everyone talks of the dead as if they were still alive. During this time, people "remember, re-live, and enjoy."

      

Day of the Dead plates, platters and tiles.

The common foods eaten on this holiday include pan de los muertos ("bread of the dead"), which is flat bread baked in the shape of skulls and crossbones. It is said to be good luck to be the one who bites into the plastic toy skeleton hidden by the baker in each loaf. Candy in the shape of skulls, skeletons, and coffins, and many favorite Mexican dishes (tamales, moles, chiles, enchiladas) are consumed as well.

 

This holiday is believed to "welcome the souls of the dead." The souls are said to return each year to enjoy the pleasures that they once had in life. They are thought to return to be with their living relatives for a few brief hours each year in this world, but come as spirits who have returned from another world. A widely held belief is that the souls of the children ("angelitos") return first, and food and gifts appropriate for their age and taste will be set out for them. Everything is in miniature: cups, plates, small breads, etc.

 

The adult dead are said to return on Nov. 1st and they are given the most elaborate foods and drinks the family can afford. It is believed that the candle light, as well as the scents of the marigold flowers and the copal incense, help the returning souls find their way back. Sometimes paths of marigold petals are scattered by the family from the cemetery to the door of the house. The ghosts can find their way by following this yellow path. The ghosts (or spirits) are not usually seen, but their presence is felt.

   

day of the dead jewelry and dia de los Muertos earrings

There are folktales believed and told that say the dead spirits will get revenge on the living if they get poor treatment during these days each year. Leaving nothing (or inferior gifts) on the altar causes the spirits to be angry or sad. These superstitions inspire many people to participate in this holiday celebration for this very reason.

   

The Day of the Dead can range from an important cultural event, to a religious ceremony emphasizing the actual worship of the dead, to just a unique Mexican holiday symbolized by special foods and candy. In Mexico, the more urban the setting, the less the religious and cultural importance is recognized by the people. The more rural and "Indian" the setting, the greater is the religious importance of the holiday. Therefore, this celebration is usually of greater social importance in southern Mexico than in the northern part of the country.

Today, the Day of the Dead is a cherished, complex holiday celebration where death is seen as life. The common principle for this holiday is "whatever pleased the dead in life they are to have again." It is a holiday when the whole family comes together - both living and dead. This holiday festivity is believed to be a time for the departed to join the living in the celebrations of the "continuum of life."

   

Day of the Dead skeleton Earrings   Skull Earrings for dia de los Muertos

The souls of children (called angelitos or "little angels") are believed to return first on the afternoon or evening of October 31 and stay through November 1st, with adult spirits following the afternoon/evening of November 1st and leaving on November 2nd.
 

     
Plans for the festival are made throughout the year, including gathering the goods to be offered to the dead. During the period of October 31 and November 2, families usually clean and decorate the graves. Wealthier families build altars in their homes.  The word ofrenda means offering in Spanish. They are also called altares or altars, but they are not for worshiping.

Some people mistakenly think that Mexicans that set up altars for their defunct relatives are actually worshiping them. Nothing further from the truth. The vast majority of Mexicans are Christian Catholics, so they only worship God. Most families simply visit the cemeteries where their loved ones are buried and decorate their graves with ofrendas, or offerings, which often include orange marigold called Flor de Muerto, Spanish for "flower of the dead", or zempoalxochitl, Nahuatl for "twenty-flower", a term that has been carried into modern Mexican Spanish as cempazúchil) which are thought to attract souls of the dead to the offerings.

   

Toys are brought for dead children (los angelitos, or little angels because often young children are dressed as angels when buried, as unmarried adults are often buried in wedding cloths), and bottles of tequila, mezcal, pulque or atole for adults. Families will also offer trinkets or the deceased's favorite candies on the grave.

    

Offerings are also put in homes, usually with foods such as candied pumpkin, pan de muerto or sugar skulls and beverages such as atole. These ofrendas are left out in the homes as a welcoming gesture for the deceased. Some people believe the spirits of the dead eat the "spiritual essence" of the ofrenda food, so even though the celebrators eat the food after the festivity, they believe it lacks nutritional value. The pillows and blankets are left out so that the deceased can rest after their long journey. In some parts of Mexico, such as the towns of Mixquic, Pátzcuaro and Janitzio, people spend all night beside the graves of their relatives.

   


Some wealthier families do build altars or small shrines in their homes. These altars usually have the Christian cross, statues or pictures of the Blessed Virgin Mary, pictures of deceased relatives and other persons, flowers such as marigolds, and scores of candles. Traditionally, families spend some time around the altar praying and telling anecdotes about the deceased.
 

   

Want to build your own altar?  Find out here by clicking on our building a day of the dead (dia de los Muertos) altar


Public schools at all levels build altars with offerings, usually omitting the religious symbols. Government offices usually have at least a small altar, as this holiday is seen as important to the Mexican heritage.

   

Those with writing talent sometimes create "calaveras" – short poems mocking epitaphs of friends. This custom originated in the 18th-19th century, after a newspaper published a poem narrating a dream of a cemetery in the future, "and all of us were dead", proceeding to "read" the tombstones. Newspapers dedicate calaveras to public figures, with cartoons of skeletons in the style of José Guadalupe Posada. Theatrical presentations of Don Juan Tenorio by José Zorrilla (1817–1893) are also traditional on this day.

     


A common symbol of the holiday is the skull (colloquially called calavera), which celebrants represent in masks, called calacas (colloquial term for "skeleton"), and foods such as Candy Skulls, which are inscribed with the name of the recipient on the forehead. Other holiday foods include pan de muerto (or "bread of the dead"), a sweet egg bread made in various shapes, from plain rounds to skulls and rabbits often decorated with white frosting to look like twisted bones.



The traditions and activities that take place in celebration of the Day of the Dead are not universal and often vary from town to town. For example, in the town of Pátzcuaro on the Lago de Pátzcuaro in Michoacán the tradition is very different if the deceased is a child rather than an adult. On November 1 of the year after a child's death, the godparents set a table in the parents' home with sweets, fruits, pan de muerto, a cross, a Rosary (used to pray to the Virgin Mary) and candles. This is meant to celebrate the child’s life, in respect and appreciation for the parents. There is also dancing with colorful costumes, often with skull-shaped masks and devil masks in the plaza or garden of the town. At midnight on November 2, the people light candles and ride winged boats called mariposas (Spanish for "butterfly") to Cuiseo, an island in the middle of the lake where there is a cemetery, to honor and celebrate the lives of the dead there.

    



The air hums with anticipation in the villages of Mexico as November approaches and with it "Dias de los Muertos" or the Days of the Dead.  There is a buzz of activity as there is much to be done.  Everything must be perfect for the visits from deceased relatives and friends.   Graves must be cleaned and swept, weeds pulled, repairs made and painting done. The cooking will take all night: making the tamales is a long, complicated and delicate process.  Spices must be ground for the moles, special pumpkin seed sweets be prepared.

     

Building the family altar is a very important part of the preparations.  Laden with flowers, fruits, food and drink for the visiting dead, it will also be covered with treasured belongings and photographs from times past to help the visiting spirits feel at home.  Jars of water are set out to quench the thirst of the dead for it will be a long journey home.  Exotic brews such as tequila or pulque are on hand for those who fancied something a little stronger in their time; perhaps there is a Coca-Cola for a child. Each altar is a personal expression of the family and the expected souls.

     

Villagers often shop for new items for their home, altar and loved ones just before the Days of the Dead.  New dishes must be purchased for offerings on the altars and for stewing spicy chicken moles because one cannot honor the dead with old crockery!  The herb stands are redolent with the fragrances of ginger, corianders and whole nutmegs.  Nearby, tables are piled high with the "Pan de Muerte" (bread of the dead) twisted into fanciful shapes and decorated with skulls, crossbones, and skeletons.  People buy and hang papel picado (literally perforated paper) paper or mylar banners.

paper papel banners from Mexico

Children crowd around the stalls of handmade toys showing people from all walks of life as skeletons: There are ice-cream peddlers, seamstresses, dentists, secretaries at their typewriters and mechanics crouched under Volkswagens making repairs.  Sugar skulls with shiny paper foil eyes twinkle in the sun.  Exquisite candies in the shape of hearts, angels and tiny animals are filled with liquors of anisette.  In another stall, the mellow colors of handmade candles catch the eye.  A candle is lit on the altars for each soul expected.  The part of the market devoted to flowers is the most enticing of all.  Great bundles of crimson cockscomb and sun-yellow Tsemposuchil (flowers of the dead) are heaped up everywhere in brilliant still-life compositions.  Paths of petals will be laid into the houses to help the dead find their way home.

 

On the evening of November first everyone converges at the cemeteries.  As families follow the glow of the candles into the cemetery, some say you can feel the spirits around you following the same lights as guideposts to their families.  The mood is hushed and solemn, one of quiet fellowship.  The smell of the carpets of flowers and flickering candles creates a mysterious atmosphere.  The women kneel or sit all night to pray. The men will keep watch, talking softly and drinking.  The children will play board games on the gravestones, finally falling asleep.

   

Outside of the cemetery, in the eerie light of bare light bulbs, food stands sell cooked tamales, empanadas, fresh fruit and refreshing beer and mezcal.  After a short break for refreshment, our all night vigil continues in the warm glow of the cemetery. In the morning, everyone will return home and the deceased souls can return to the other world reassured that they have not been forgotten.

Dias de los Muertos dancers, karate, waiters, sports figures and others by Peruvian artists.

 

Ceramic dia de los Muertos figures from Peru

   

Tin Day of the Dead Figures and ornaments

Ceramic skeleton mugs

 

paper mache skeletons & figures

 

terracotta, clay and paper mache skeletons and skulls

   

trees of death

 

day of the dead coasters

 

 

  

 

 

 

Paper Mache wedding couples cake toppers

  

 

Skully pins

 

 

skull mala bracelets  & paper Mache skulls

   

reverse painted Coasters featuring a Catrina & Skeletons

   

 

 

 

 

 

Skeletons

Guitar Pick sugar skull earrings

Day of the dead tiles

& MANY MORE ITEMS!

MORE DAY OF THE DEAD ITEMS HERE

Limited edition Day of the Dead

Chocolates at our store!

Dia de los Muertos

Mexico's Day(s) of the Dead

Zanzibar offers a wide range of merchandise and classes for this ever-growing holiday. 

 

Zanzibar sells sugar skull plastic molds to make Mexican Sugar Skulls for your Day of the Dead Altars (available online or at our retail gallery) plus Meringue powder for sugar skulls, paste food colorings, and decorating kits

 

 

 

 

END

 

About Mexico's Day of the Dead

Building A Day of the Dead Altar

Papel Picado - Mexican Paper Banners

Mexican Recipes for Day of the Dead

Sugar Skulls

Making Sugar Skulls

Making Chocolate Skulls

The art of José Guadalupe Posada

The art of Claudio Jimenez

Freida Altar by Mexican artist Tomas Castillo of Izucar, Puebla

The art of Tomas Hernandez Baez Castillo

The art of Alfonso Castillo Ortiz & Saul Montesinos

The clay of Josefina Aguilar, her sons & sisters

Copal Resin Incense from Oaxaca, Mexico for your Altar

~~~~~~~~~~~~

Samplings of our ever-changing inventory:

Day of the Dead Wedding Couples by Andres

Paper Mache Catrinas

Skeleton Mariachi Bands

Paper Mache Skeletons

Enramada Paper Mache

Frida Kahlo Skeletons

Skeleton Animals including skeleton dogs, skeleton roosters and more!

Paper Mache Skulls

Skeleton Athletes including skeleton skateboarders, skeleton surfers, skeleton football players, skeleton baseball players, and others!

Devil & Skull Maracas and rattles

Dancing Catrinas

Skeleton Mermaids

Friendly Catrinas

Clay Catrinas and Catrins and terracotta skeletons

 

Day of the dead chocolates made from our sugar skull chocolate molds by Ginger Elizabeth