Sugar skulls might be popular during Halloween celebrations, but they can also be a cool body art. However, they’re more than just a cool design—they have deeper meanings and symbolism that you should be aware of before getting a sugar skull tattoo. If you’re looking for inspiration, keep on reading for the 50 sugar skull tattoo ideas for men, along with the tradition and interpretation with them.
The History of Sugar Skulls
The “Día de los Muertos” or the “Day of the Dead” is celebrated in Mexico during November 1 and 2. You might associate it with the Catholic holiday of All Soul’s Days and All Saint’s Day, but Mexicans incorporated their own traditions and beliefs on remembering their loved ones. They believe that happy spirits will provide protection to them, especially the spirits of their deceased children and the spirits of the adults that are believed to join the celebration during October 31 till November 2.
Before it became popular as a tattoo, sugar skull began in Mexico during the 17th century as a decoration or edible offering. In fact, they were used as an alternative to expensive church decorations, since the country is abundant in sugar supplies. While smaller sugar skulls are placed on the altar of their deceased children, larger sugar skulls are for the adults.
You might be thinking of mystical and spooky sugar skulls, but in Mexico, they are colorful and usually bear the name of their deceased loved ones. While you could find ghosts, skulls, coffins, creepy monsters, and pumpkins on Halloween-inspired sweets, there’s nothing scary or grotesque about a sugar skull. Some sugar skull decorations are edible, but some of their finishing touches—rhinestones, crosses, marigolds, beads, ribbons, glitters, paints, feathers, foil—are not edible, making the creation of artisanal sugar skulls more of an art than an offering.
Yes, sugar skulls are an essential part of the Mexican culture, as those ornaments are being placed to the headstones of their loved ones to bring their spirit back during the celebration. That’s the reason why some people decided to get sugar skull tattoos in colorful designs—it’s the extension of their celebration beyond the “Día de los Muertos”.
The Difference between Dia de los Muertos and Halloween
During Halloween, we usually see spooky designs of sugar skulls, along with coffins, costumes, and pumpkins, but in Mexico, sugar skulls are always fascinating and colorful. In Mexico, their preparation for the Día de los Muertos holiday begins on October 31—the same day of the Halloween. While these two holidays are almost the same in concept and date, they’re completely different.
The Día de los Muertos holiday traces back to the Aztecs, and the ceremony begins with the altars. In Mexico, they prepare the altar of the person before October 31 and gather offerings, along with decoration of “papel picado” or cutouts of skulls and skeletons.
While in some parts of the world, they commemorate the holiday as the day of mourning, in Mexico they celebrate the holiday more like a festival—it’s a very positive and colorful one. Mexicans welcome the spirits of their loved ones in a festive way—music, colorful ornaments, candles, and food. They celebrate the life of the deceased loved one lived, making a party atmosphere for everyone.
On the contrary, Halloween is normally celebrated with spooky skulls and decorations—some even paint their faces with creepy skull designs. It’s associated with trick or treat, along with horror and grotesque art. In fact, it’s more of a hilarious holiday where people are encouraged to indulge in food, sweets, and alcohol. Also, the horror stories and haunted houses are popular during the celebration of the Halloween, which is the opposite on the Mexican culture.
Mexicans want to capture the happy memories of their loved ones. They even add punchy colors, festive decorations, and accessories of their loved ones along with the sugar skull, making the holiday celebration joyous and alive. Yes, Día de los Muertos is a colorful holiday based on Mexican tradition and is not related with the Halloween.
Meanings of Sugar Skull Tattoo
The sugar skull is one of the most popular tattoo designs varying from black and white, colorful, grotesque, funky, hyper-realistic, abstract, and even in mixed symbolisms. Depending on your personality and purpose, you may opt for a personalized sugar skull tattoo that speaks to you.
In Mexico, the skull symbolizes death in a positive way.
We now know that sugar skulls are colorful and festive during the celebration of Día de los Muertos—no wonder Mexican people view death in a positive way. Instead of mourning for their loved ones, they take advantage of the holiday as the perfect time to remember the most joyous moments they have with them.
Do you know that Mexicans believe that death is not the final destination, but just another stage to step forward into a higher level of conscience? If you wish to get a skull tattoo and want to perceive death in a positive way, make your body art festive and colorful like Mexicans always do. Forget those Halloween-inspired details of creepy and grotesque skulls, making your tattoo more meaningful and expressive.
For the Aztecs, skulls were a positive symbol of rebirth.
The Aztects are the native Mexican people who lived in the 15th and early 16th centuries. No wonder, present day Mexicans view the sugar skulls in a positive way since their ancestors view them as the symbol of rebirth. Whether you like to believe it or not, you have to know that most interpretations of skulls rooted from cultures and traditions.
Flower decorations symbolize life, while cob webs symbolize death.
In the Día de los Muertos holiday, sugar skulls are designed with various decorations along with glitters, bows, flowers or marigold, feathers, sequins and such that will add some fun to the celebration. No wonder, the colorful flower details on sugar skull tattoos symbolize life.
When do you usually see creepy skulls, grotesque coffins, cob webs, and haunted houses, in the Halloween celebration right? No wonder, those kinds of tattoos along with cob web details symbolize death. However, details like burning candles can also be a symbol of remembrance.
Reasons to Get a Sugar Skull Tattoo
You want to remember your loved ones who passed away.
Like what we have learned, sugar skulls are used by Mexicans to remember their loved ones during the celebration of Día de los Muertos during October 31 till November 2. If you want to remember them beyond those dates, then a sugar skull tattoo will be a great instrument to memorialize a deceased loved one in a permanent way.
In fact, you may even make your tattoo more personal—think of the theme that you like, along with the things that make you remember that person. You may even add some quirk and bright colors to the design of your sugar skull tattoo, or make it more sophisticated. Remember, Mexicans make sugar skulls as a way to honor the good memories they shared with their loved ones. So, think also for the details you can show your love and respect to your deceased friend. Tattoos are permanent, so think of the details that can bring back those happy memories with your loved ones every time you see it.
You want to add some edge to your looks.
If you have a different interpretation for the skull tattoo, and don’t believe in the Mexican tradition, then feel free to incorporate any detail that you like. Remember, tattoos are a form of self expression, and you can say a lot of things with your body art without having to speak.
If you can see, there are a lot of symbols used by contradicting faiths. Whether you wish to believe one thing over the other, sometimes you have to ignore everything and go with your own interpretation. You may choose to make your sugar skull tattoos colorful, even if you don’t mind the Mexican traditions, or make it a Gothic-inspired, punk rock-inspired and such.
You want to show appreciation to the Mexican culture.
Whether you’re a Mexican who love to show your appreciation for the Mexican culture, or someone who simply amazed with their tradition, wearing sugar skulls tattoo is great. Just do some research on the symbolism of sugar skulls and Calavera so you can express yourself accurately. If you find yourself uncertain with a specific detail, yet it’s connected with the Mexican culture, be cautious.
You don’t have to be in Mexico just to celebrate the Día de los Muertos holiday, and you don’t have to be a Mexican just to appreciate the sugar skull tattoos. Through your body art, you can personalize the culture with your own beliefs. In fact, you can remember your loved ones more than just wearing a sugar skull tattoo—think of the places you used to visit together, the songs you used to sing, the foods you love to eat and such.
You believe in the afterlife.
Some people believe that death is just a door to another life, and if you believe it too, then a skull tattoo is great for you. Instead of fearing death, you may view it as an opportunity to explore the other things beyond your lifetime. It’s up to you if you wish to make your sugar skull tattoo colorful as Mexicans view it, or keep it simple and personal. After all, tattoo is a form of expression, and you would want to say the thoughts that reflect your own perception
You need reminder to live life to its fullest.
Some people want to enjoy life to the fullest, and having a skull tattoo as a symbol of death will remind you to change your life for the better. Since you would like it to be a reminder for you, place your tattoo on areas you’ll often see like your wrist, calves, and even on your legs. You may even incorporate some details that will remind you of your life goals, whether it’s related to happiness, love, fame, wealth and such, making your sugar skull tattoo an inspiration at the same time.
Placement of Sugar Skull Tattoo
Whether you’re amazed with the Mexican holiday or simply want some edge to your looks, sugar skull tattoos can express your individuality and views on the world. Before deciding on the placement of your sugar skull tattoo, think first how simple or elaborate you would like it to be. While sugar skulls can be tattooed anywhere, its look will vary depending on your canvas and the size of the design.
Think of your upper arms, shoulders, back, wrists, fingers, calves, and even back of your neck that can be great to make your sugar skull tattoo more personal. Also, keep in mind that small sugar skull tattoos may lose some of its details, while larger sugar skulls tattoos will allow you to add more elaborate designs that speak to you. Also, decide if you want to make your tattoos more visible or more personal, as some people opt for body art that are meant to be shared with the world while some are located where only the wearer can see them.
Indeed, sugar skull tattoos are inspiring and memorable, adding some dash of personality into your looks. So, opt for a design that reflects your individuality, and the world will know you better.