Living on the West Texas/New Mexico/Mexico border, Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is prominent tradition in my area.
For those who may not know, Dia de los Muertos is Latin America’s answer to All Soul’s Day. Dia de los Muertos has been part of the Mexican cultural landscape for at least 3,000 years, and has elements of both the “pre-Hispanic” indigenous cultures who displayed various items during certain rituals to symbolize death and rebirth. It is also sometimes infused with Christian elements, particularly as it falls at the time of the Catholic observance All Saint’s Day on November 1 in honor of all saints, known and unknown, and All Soul’s Day, November 2, the Catholic celebration of the faithful departed.
Some of the most powerful imagery that floats around includes the “Calaveras” (skeletons), and “Calacas” (skulls), and can be found on items like “Pan de Muerto,” a pastry served during the observance, as part of elaborate costuming and face-painting (like those in Catrina Balls), cut in to tissue paper decorations known as “Papel Picado,” or in the form of sugar skulls placed on home-made altars in cemeteries and community centers that honor a departed loved one or historic figure.
These images have crept into pop culture and geekdom well. Some examples include the comics El Muerto: The Aztec Zombie by Javier Hernandez, and Sergio Argones’s Dia de los Muertos, as well as the LucasArts 1998 art deco video game Grim Fandango, and the iconic Oingo Boingo album cover for Dead Man’s Party.
One of my favorite decorating traditions for Day of the Dead is the papel picado. Usually, these designs are mega-elaborate, but I’ve simplified them to easy paper-doll status for beginners, using two of my favorite geeky “Calacas” patterns inspired by Marvel Comics–The Punisher symbol and Hydra logo.
Print the attached templates out and fold an 8″ x 11″ piece of tissue paper in half (or construction paper if you are worring about tearing) as you would a Valentine, then gently cut over the pattern with a mat knife or small scissors.
Consider yourself cultured.