Papel picado

Papel Picado
© Suzanne Barbezat

One of the traditional Mexican handicrafts that is always present in any celebration is papel picado. When traveling throughout Mexico, you will no doubt come across colorful banners that are strung up with cut out papers to decorate a variety of scenes. They may be strung up along the walls, across ceilings or even outdoors in churchyards or spanning from one side or a street to another, sometimes in seemingly endless rows. These festive banners consist of sheets of tissue paper with patterns cut out on them. In Spanish, they are called papel picado, which means cut paper.

Traditional Folk Art Technique

Papel picado is a traditional folk art from Mexico that involves cutting out intricate patterns on colorful tissue paper. The technique dates to the colonial period, although the custom of using paper as an element in rituals has prehipanic origins, where it was used as ceremonial and ritual flags which were painted in many colors. The tissue paper is then glued to a string in a line to form banners which are used as decorations for important festivities throughout the year.

Artisans may study for years to learn to make papel picado in its traditional form. Originally the paper was laboriously cut with scissors. Now up to 50 sheets of tissue paper can be cut at a time, using a hammer and an assortment of blades and chisels of different sizes and shapes. An infinite variety of patterns and designs are made in papel picado: flowers, birds, lettering, people and animals and lattice-work patterns. For Day of the Dead, skulls and skeletons are depicted.

Originally tissue paper was used to make papel picado, but it's becoming more and more common to use plastic sheets, which makes for longer-lasting papel picado, particularly when used out-of-doors. See a plaza adorned with papel picado: Guadalajara's Plaza de los Mariachis.

Regardless of its material or theme, papel picado is made by Mexican hands to give color and life to any celebration including patron fiestas, civic festivals and family parties.

Pronunciation: pah-pell pee-ka-doh

Also Known As: Cut paper, perforated paper

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