Sugar skulls, tamales and spirits (the alcoholic kind) — these are things you might find on ofrendas, or altars, built this time of year to entice those who’ve passed to the other side back for a visit. These altars in homes and around tombstones are for Day of the Dead, or Dia de los Muertos, a tradition on Nov. 1 and originating in central Mexico.
The Aztecs developed the ritual some 3,000 years ago because they believed one should not grieve the loss of a beloved ancestor who passed. Instead, the Aztecs celebrated their lives and welcomed the return of their spirits to the land of the living once a year. That’s where the food, drink and music offerings come in.
Hayes Lavis, cultural arts curator for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, says that mourning was not allowed because it was believed the tears would make the spirit’s path treacherous and slippery. “This day is a joyous occasion; it’s a time to gather with everyone in your family, those alive and those dead,” he says.
During the Spanish conquest, Catholic leaders exerted their influence on the tradition, and the resulting mash-up created the Day of the Dead celebration as we now know it.
This fall, Starbucks hopped on the sugar skull “trend” with the above cookies. Critics have been quick to point out that this is appropriating cultural tradition associated with Día de los Muertos, a Mexican holiday that celebrates and honors the dead. In a statement, Starbucks defended their choice to make it in the least humble way possible.