Halloween is here, bringing ghosts, goblins, and skeletons to life. But in San Antonio, those skeletons are a bit more lively than your traditional Halloween spookfest. And guess what? They’re not for Halloween. Thanks to our city’s vibrant, rich mix of cultures, San Antonio not only celebrates Halloween, it pulls out all of the stops for Dia de los Muertos as well.
If you’re not familiar with Dia de los Muertos, there are a few things you need to know. Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is not an extension of Halloween. The only thing it shares with the ghouly holiday is timing: Dia de los Muertos is November 1 and 2. The two days of Dia de los Muertos are divided into two holidays: Dide los Inocentes, which is dedicated to children, and Dide los Muertos, the actual Day of the Dead. Both days taken together are collectively referred to as the Day of the Dead, and celebrations can begin as early as Halloween—another reason that Dia de los Muertos is sometimes mistaken as Halloween-related.
Second, Dia de los Muertos is a celebration, a tradition that’s been celebrated for thousands of years, tracing back to indigenous tribes in Mexico. The idea behind Dia de los Muertos is that deceased loved ones are given an opportunity to be back with their families. It’s not a sad holiday—it’s a celebration of life, hence the bright colors and laughing skulls and skeletons.
Which brings me to the trend taking over décor and fashion, adorning everything from rain boots to dog leashes: calaveras. The laughing skulls and skeletons that are seemingly everywhere these days are calaveras, Spanish for skull. Traditionally, they’re often made with sugar, hence the name you probably hear much more often, sugar skulls. And they’re everywhere. Seriously, it seems like calaveras have taken over. You can find sugar skulls on almost everything. And not just human skulls—you’ll see cat and dog skulls smiling at you on a wide array of merchandise, too.
Traditionally, sugar skulls are used to decorate ofrendas, or offerings, as in offerings to the souls returning on the Day of the Dead. Yes, they are skull-shaped sugar, making them a sweet offering decorated with brightly colored icing, foils, and more. Ofrendas often include sugar skulls, photographs, and treasured items of the departed, as well as favorite foods. For a glimpse at how your family can make your own ofrendas, check out how one family participates in the tradition. And you can definitely loop your kids into Dia de los Muertos. The movie The Book of Life is a great start; there’s an episode of Disney’s Elena of Avalor that explains it well; and believe me, once Disney’s new movie, Coco, hits the screens this Thanksgiving, there will be no escaping calaveras in your life.
If you’d like to see ofrendas and learn more about Dia de los Muertos, you’re in luck—there are a number of workshops, exhibitions, and celebrations in San Antonio just waiting for you to join in, and all of them are family friendly. But sugar skulls are popping up far from any altars created to honor deceased loved ones. If you’re looking to wade into a trend rooted in hundreds of years of tradition, there’s no end to the variety of sugar skulls available. From the sugary variety to paper maché and pottery, traditional sugar skulls have inspired home décor, fashion, and art, all waiting to brighten your home and wardrobe this season.
So where can you score sugar skulls? The options are endless, including mom-faves H-E-B and Target. H-E-B features calaveras on dishes, bakeware, glasses, yard art, and everything else that you can imagine. You can even check out some of their selection online. (We love you, H-E-B!) Target has cute candy dishes, wreaths, and more tucked into their Halloween section, some of which you can see here. (Yes, Target, we love you, too.)
Like so many other San Antonio celebrations, Fiesta on Main is a great place to start. Filling two houses and everything in between, there’s something awesome in every corner. The store has row upon row of sugar skulls tucked away beneath garland and ribbons, and of course, more sugar skulls dangling from the ceiling.
A spot with authentic sugar skulls that will mesmerize you: Tienda de la Garza. Just around the corner from the Alamo, the store features authentic, handmade calaveras in all forms. The folks at Tienda de la Garza are always happy to explain the traditions and customs behind it all as well, so feel free to ask and learn while you shop.
You’ll also find sugar skulls that seem to be winking at you in Bird and Pear, a wonderful stop in La Villita. Bird and Pear has its own twist on sugar skulls, including a pink and black poncho that’s right in style for Dia de los Muertos, but will probably be spotted year-round in this city that embraces all things sugar skull. And don’t miss Bear and Roo’s Sangria-scented candle featuring a calavera on its label. The smell of Sangria and a calavera? Yes!
For more options—and family fun—be sure to visit the fantastic vendors at Historic Market Square, where you’ll find sugar skulls dotting booth after booth. And proof that sugar skull love goes far beyond San Antonio: calaveras can also be found at Alex and Ani at North Star Mall. Take your pick and add some shine to the sugar skull collection you never knew you needed until now.