Photos of the Sugar Skull Market in Toluca, Mexico

Calavera Skulls Dia de los Muertos

Next week is one of Mexico’s biggest holidaysdia de Muertos or Day of the Dead. For a long-time American like me, it can be hard to separate it from Halloween, but the two holidays are quite different. Dia honors and celebrates the passing of loved ones, by having an annual funeral of sorts for everyone you’ve ever loved, topped off with a festive tone.

Today I visited one of the country’s largest markets for Muertos goods and handicrafts in Toluca, Mexico, about 50 kilometers from Mexico City. It’s called the Feria del Alfeñique y Dulce Tradicional de día de Muertos.

And, yep, I took lotsa photos:

The ultimate Muertos accessory? An ornate sugar skull, aka calavera:

Calavera Skulls Dia de los Muertos - Ornate

How are these calaveras displayed, once they’ve been purchased at the market?

It depends. I, for one, simply love how they look. They’re colorful, a tad creepy (like me) and fun. So, I bought some longer lasting clay versions today, even though I don’t expect to be particularly reverent next weekend.

(Instead, my calaveras will become part of my guest bedroom(s) decor, since I love the idea of a calavera watching over my guests as they try to sleep, but instead toss and turn with the thoughts that 1) Wow, I’m in Mexico City and the altitude is really high and I’m totally exhausted and just want to sleep after all those margaritas but 2) there are skulls in every corner of this room.)

But most people in Mexico will use them on graves, or in their homes, like offerings on a shrine. Here are some examples, from the La Feria de Alfenique displays in Toluca:

Alfenque Shrine in Toluca, Mexico

Toluca Shrine

The sugar market is vast — it stretches the entire length of three sides of this building:
Sugar Market in Toluca

Most of the downtown area is covered with skeletal artwork and signs..

Skeletor in Toluca

Senora Muertos

If you’d like to read more and see a lot more photos, I recommend this great blog about Dia de Muertos by Mary J. Andrade.

NOTE: TO SEE PHOTOS FROM THE 2008 ALFENIQUE/SUGAR SKULL MARKET, READ MY LATEST BLOG POST: DO YOU LIKE MY SUGAR SKULLS?

16 thoughts on “Photos of the Sugar Skull Market in Toluca, Mexico

  1. mmalan says:

    So does anyone ever EAT any of these sugar items? (Or was I the only kid who ever ate the big sugar eggs with the pastoral scene inside?)

  2. Joy says:

    Good question. They sold a ton of chocolate lollipops (various shapes on a stick, like the Minnesota State Fair) and marzipan type items, so I’m sure those could be eaten. But a lot of the sugar skulls have non-edible adornments on them, like sequins.

  3. DKN says:

    SO be-you-tiful! And yes, totally creepy. I love day of the dead artwork. The second to last pic is now my wallpaper…but i might have to change it to the last pic soon.

  4. jminton says:

    Wow! Gorgeous! I’m sharing the link with my Death and Dying class at John A. Logan College. I’ve always loved the bride and groom skeletons but my favorite is the obstetrician holding the baby. Have you seen one of those? This certainly is a different way of looking at death than our culture! Your photos are terrific! I think this is my favorite holiday. Thank you! I look forward to more!

  5. Joy says:

    Thanks Jane!

    I have seen that one — of the ob/gyn with the baby. I find it fascinating, because around the rest of the world, it’s rare to see any examples of childbirth in works of art or in folk art. And I mean any form of childbirth (or breastfeeding, too, now that I think about it).

  6. tove from sweden says:

    do you mind if I can have one of your photos?

    I am doing a essey in spanish about Mexico and I would like to have a picture on the “sugar skulls”, and your pictures was really good! 🙂

    /tove

  7. mich from mexico says:

    actually you are supposed to be eating your own skull, you see these are intended to be gifts for children, so people ask the attendant to write the child´s name on the forehead (over the small piece of paper you can see on the first picture) so it becomes kind of joke, the intention is to teach kids to deal with death in a lighter way. And so i have eaten my own skull many many times.

  8. Mario says:

    Hi, I like your blog and well… actually I studied the influence of latin american in other country, ( and I am Mexican to =P) so… I live in Toluca and yeap… you can eat the skulls and other things, now I hear that chocolate and sugar skulls are being imported to all the world, but the real meaning of those is the follow:

    Sugar skulls have a little piece of paper in the front and you have to put the name of one who has died, and you put in a space that we call “Ofrenda”, ofrenda is a table that you can add things that is supposed that the soul of the person who died comes to eat the November 2º.

    The orange flower is called “Flor de Cempasichit” and is used to guide the soul to the ofrenda…

    Well I know that my English is not the best but I want to share some of this culture to the world =)

  9. Rosalinda says:

    All,
    this is just beautiful! I’m so into the calaveras, they’re all so pretty.
    Mario, you’re doing great with your English.
    Thanks for sharing these images with us.

  10. Matt says:

    I used to live in Toluca when i was younger, my Dad’s side of the family still lives there a block away from the soccer stadium and have their own little “tienda” connected to the house. I used to to eat everything during Dia de los muertos including the skulls. It was such a fun time, i miss it and cant wait to go back.

  11. Matt Favila says:

    Joy,

    I really enjoyed your photos, my first experience with Dia de los Muertos was also in Toluca. I use to live there with my dad’s side of the family for about a year. The Portales is my favorite place to be during that time. Your pics brought back so many fond memories. Thank you.

    Respectfully,

    Matt Favila

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