I remember when we were young, we would take colored construction paper and fold it in half as many times as we could, then we would cut out triangular, circular or square pieces on the folds. I’d carefully unfold the sheet to find spectacular designs, all different depending on the cuts. Mom would hang them in the windows especially at Christmas time because they looked like snowflakes. There are artisans in Mexico that do a far more intricate and artistic job than a 6 year old with stiff construction paper and a pair of safety scissors! It’s called Papel Picado.
The artisans that create these Papel Picado banners are masters; San Salvador Huixcolotla is located near the city of Puebla and is considered the cradle of papel picado, as the inhabitants dedicate themselves to the art of papel picado, preserving this tradition for more than 150 years.Beginning in the 18th century, tissue paper was imported from China to Mexico. In 1998 the Executive Power of the State of Puebla decreed that papel picado would be the Cultural Heritage of the State of Puebla.
There are many well-known artisans in San Salvador Huixcolotla but a family by the name of Reynoso, that caught my eye while I was doing my research. Gilbert Reynoso Mendez was telling me he is 3rd generation artisan in the craft of papel picado. If you ever find yourself in San Salvador Huixcolotla, check out their workshop, and be fortunate to see some papel picado masters at work.
This family’s workshop has been making papel picado for over 70 years. The Reynoso family has 55-100 artisans, seamstresses and workers in charge of packaging on staff, depending on the season.
For many years the artisans used scissors to create their designs, over time these masters started making their own steel chisels enabling them to make extremely intricate and high-quality work. These artisans will stack anywhere from 50 to 100 sheets of tissue paper and use their assortment of blades, steel chisels and a hammer to strike designs working over a basic pattern sometimes set on a thin piece of glass.
These banners are used in every celebration in Mexico, if you see papel picado there is most certainly a fiesta happening. One of the greatest celebrations where you will find papel picado is “The Day of the Dead” “Dia de los Muertos” on the alters that the Mexicans have prepared for the ones that have passed, you will always find the 4 vital elements of life:
1. The fire in the candles
2. The earth in the fruits, breads and sawdust
3. The water in the glass and
4. The wind in the papel picado
One of the most charming display of papel picado, was in the opening sequence of Pixar´s Academy Award winner movie, “Coco”, where in the opening sequence, animated images of papel picado tell the back story of Miguel´s family. A highly recommended movie!
To carry the significance of the papel picado for The Day of the Dead even further, every color represents something different:
• White – represents the purity of the children who died
• Orange – It is mourning and respect for the dead. It is said that Orange is the only color that the deceased can see
• Purple – refers to the Catholic religion and is the color of the season of Lent
• Blue – represents those who died from causes related to water, such as drowning
• Red – honors the men who died in the war and also the women who died during childbirth
• Green – represents those who died young
• Yellow – to remember those who died old
• Black – is the color of the underworld
• Pink – represents the Mexican land, as it is a typical color of the country
If you are planning on shopping for some papel picado, you will find that the artisan’s are expanding because of supply and demand and are using different mediums, plastic, material or metallic paper just to name a few. Regardless of the material or theme, papel picado is made by Mexican hands that have worked years to master the art of this beautiful Mexican tradition.
¡Viva la Fiesta! ¡Viva Mexico!
By Nova-Lee DoBush