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By Jan Siegel
On Saturday, Oct. 19, from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., the Historical Society is hosting a cultural, educational crafting and eating event celebrating the Day of the Dead and the making of Sugar Skulls.
Genevieve Southgate, director of Community Projects for Bowers Museum, will talk on the history and traditions of Dia de Los Muertos. Following her presentation, there will be a demonstration and making of sugar skulls for everyone. The cost is $26 per person.
For reservations, call the Society at 949.493.8444. Space is limited, so reserve early.
In addition to this event, the Society will have a Day of the Dead exhibit from Oct. 11 until Nov. 2 at the Silvas Adobe. This year will focus on the history and tradition of the sugar skulls.
While the Day of the Dead has been combined with Halloween in this country, the two holidays are quite different.
Traditionally, the Day of the Dead was an Aztec holiday, which goes back more than 3,500 years. It was a month-long celebration that honored those who had died but “welcomed their spirits back to earth for a visit.”
Collecting skulls of the deceased was common and would be displayed during the month-long ritual.
When the Spanish arrived, they put an end to any “pagan” practices in an effort to convert everyone to the Catholic Church. But the natives maintained their belief in their ancestors. Over time, the church meshed the Day of Dead rituals with All Souls Day and All Saints Day, which occurred the same time of the year. Of course, the collecting of human skulls was not acceptable.
But people are always resourceful when they want to maintain traditions. With the coming of the Spanish came the start of sugar plantations. Sugar was abundant and was very cheap. So it was not long before local people discovered that they could make sugar skulls and decorate them to honor their loved ones.
Although the Day of the Dead is celebrated throughout the Catholic world, it is only in Central and Southern Mexico where colorful decorations, altars in the home and at cemeteries are seen.
Sugar skulls are made from only sugar, meringue powder and water, pressed into a mold and dried. The colors in the decorations also have meaning. Yellow represents death, purple means grief, and white demonstrates purity and hope.
Large skulls are not generally eaten, but smaller ones may be consumed as a way of acknowledging that “death is nothing but the passing from this life into the next.”
Spend a Moment in Time by visiting the Historical Society to see its tribute to the Day of the Dead and join in the celebration on Oct. 19 and make your own sugar skulls.
Jan Siegel was a 33-year resident of San Juan Capistrano and now resides in the neighboring town of Rancho Mission Viejo. She served on the city’s Cultural Heritage Commission for 13 years, has been a volunteer guide for the San Juan Capistrano Friends of the Library’s architectural walking tour for 26 years and is currently the museum curator for the San Juan Capistrano Historical Society. She was named Woman of the Year by the Chamber of Commerce in 2005, Volunteer of the Year in 2011 and was inducted into the city’s Wall of Recognition in 2007.