Discovering the Meaning: What Does Papel Picado Symbolize?

If you’ve ever been to a Mexican celebration, then you’re no stranger to papel picado. These colorful paper cut-outs adorn the streets, homes, and altars during various festivities, giving them a festive, almost ethereal vibe. But what does papel picado really symbolize? This traditional handicraft holds so much more meaning than just colorful paper decorations.

Each papel picado design carries its unique symbolism, often representing different religious and cultural beliefs. Some designs depict animals, flowers, or symbols like the sun, moon, and stars, which relate to specific regions and their traditional values. Other more intricate designs represent the four elements of nature or aspects of the indigenous Aztec cosmology. The bright and contrasting colors used to create these beautiful paper cutouts signify happy and festive occasions.

History of Papel Picado

Papel picado is a traditional Mexican art form that dates back to pre-Columbian times. It is believed to have originated in the Aztec culture, where they would cut intricate designs into bark paper using knives and chisels. The tradition was later adopted by the Spanish, who introduced European paper-making techniques to Mexico in the 16th century.

Originally used during religious ceremonies, papel picado became a popular decorative element at weddings, birthdays, and other celebrations. The delicate paper cutouts were often hung from strings or wires to create vibrant displays that would flutter in the breeze.

  • Papel picado is made by layering sheets of brightly colored tissue paper
  • The designs are then cut out using chisels, scissors or specialized paper punchers.
  • Papel picado is commonly used during Mexican celebrations such as Dia de los Muertos and Las Posadas.

Today, papel picado remains an important cultural symbol in Mexico and beyond. Its intricate designs and vibrant colors are recognized worldwide and are often associated with the vibrant and lively culture of Mexico.

Historical PeriodDescription
Pre-Columbian TimesAztec culture creates papel picado using bark paper and chisels.
16th CenturySpanish introduce European paper-making techniques to Mexico.
20th CenturyPapel picado becomes a popular decorative element.

As the popularity of papel picado has grown, so too has its significance. Today, it is not just a decorative element but a symbol of tradition, culture, and identity.

Materials Used to Make Papel Picado

At the heart of creating papel picado lies the materials used to make it. Traditionally, papel picado is made using tissue paper, which is both affordable and easily accessible. Often, the tissue paper is dyed in vibrant colors to create the iconic look of papel picado.

  • Tissue paper: As already mentioned, tissue paper is the most commonly used material to make papel picado. Its thinness and delicacy make it easy to cut and fold, and it is available in a wide range of colors.
  • Scissors: To create the intricate designs of papel picado, a pair of sharp and precise scissors is essential. The scissors need to be able to cut through several layers of tissue paper smoothly and cleanly.
  • Chisels: In Mexico, professional papel picado makers use chisels instead of scissors. The chisels are used to punch out intricate designs in the tissue paper and are often handmade from old files or flat pieces of metal.

While tissue paper and scissors are the main materials required to create papel picado, there are additional materials that can be used to enhance the beauty and intricacy of the designs.

Some alternative materials that can be used include:

  • Colored cellophane: Similar to tissue paper, but more durable, colored cellophane can be used to add texture and depth to papel picado designs.
  • Glitter: Adding glitter to papel picado can create a sparkling effect, making the designs even more eye-catching.
  • Markers: Markers can be used to hand draw designs onto the tissue paper before cutting.

Regardless of the materials used, the key to making striking papel picado is to pay attention to detail and make sure the designs are well-crafted and carefully cut.

Tissue PaperScissorsChisels
Thin and delicateSharp and preciseUsed by professionals to punch out intricate designs
Comes in a wide range of colorsCan cut through multiple layers of tissue paperOften handmade from old files or flat pieces of metal

Ultimately, the materials used to make papel picado are simple and easy to come by, yet it is the skill and artistry of the artist that creates the intricate and beautiful designs that are a key symbol of Mexican culture.

Traditional designs and patterns

Papel picado is known for its intricate designs and patterns. These designs are often traditional and hold significant meaning within Mexican culture. The traditional designs and patterns of papel picado extend beyond just simple decorations and can tell stories of history, religion, and cultural beliefs.

  • Flowers: Flower designs are prevalent in papel picado, particularly the marigold known as cempasúchil. This flower is commonly used in Day of the Dead celebrations and represents the fragility and beauty of life.
  • Animals: Many papel picado designs feature animals, such as the eagle and snake, which hold significance in Aztec mythology. The eagle, for example, was believed to be a symbol of power, while the snake represented rebirth and renewal.
  • Geometric shapes: Papel picado also features a variety of geometric shapes, such as circles and triangles, which hold symbolic meanings. Circles represent unity and the circle of life, while triangles are associated with the Holy Trinity in Catholicism.


The colors used in papel picado are also significant and hold special meanings. Traditionally, papel picado was made using colored tissue paper, and the colors used were based on cultural and religious beliefs. Some of the most common colors and their meanings include:

  • Red: Represents blood and is often used in papel picado for Day of the Dead celebrations to honor the dead.
  • White: Represents purity and is often used in papel picado for religious celebrations, such as weddings and baptisms.
  • Yellow: Represents death and is used in papel picado for Day of the Dead celebrations as a sign of the sun and the passage of time.
  • Green: Represents nature, life, and hope, and is commonly used in papel picado for Mexican Independence Day celebrations.


Traditional papel picado is made using tissue paper, which is folded and cut into intricate designs. The tissue paper is then strung together with string or twine. Today, papel picado is also made using plastic or nylon, which is more durable and longer-lasting than tissue paper. However, many traditionalists argue that the use of plastic or nylon takes away from the authenticity and cultural significance of the papel picado.

Tissue PaperInexpensive and biodegradableNot as durable as other materials and can easily tear
PlasticMore durable and long-lasting than tissue paperNot biodegradable and does not hold the same cultural significance
NylonStrong and weather-resistantNot biodegradable and can be expensive

Overall, papel picado is a beautiful and meaningful representation of Mexican culture. Its use of traditional designs, colors, and materials serve as a reminder of the country’s rich history, religion, and cultural beliefs.

Modern interpretations of papel picado

Papel picado is an art form that has gained popularity not only in Mexico but also in other parts of the world. The traditional designs and meanings have been reimagined and transformed to appeal to modern audiences. Here are some modern interpretations of papel picado:

  • Wedding decor: Papel picado is now a popular choice for wedding decor. It is used to add color and festivity to the venue and can be customized with the names of the couple or their initials.
  • Branding: Some businesses have adopted papel picado as part of their branding strategy. The colorful and intricate designs are used in logos, packaging, and displays.
  • Home decor: Papel picado is no longer limited to special occasions. It is now used as a decorative element in homes, adding a touch of Mexican culture and tradition.

Moreover, contemporary artists have put their own spin on the papel picado. They have created new designs and incorporated new elements, creating a fusion of traditional and modern art. These new designs are reflective of our changing times, blending tradition with innovation.

One such artist is Letty Gomez, who uses digital technology to create papel picado designs. Another is Rebeca Mojica, who creates large-scale installations using metal mesh instead of paper.

To further showcase the diversity of modern interpretations of papel picado, here’s a table:

Letty GomezDigitally designed papel picado
Rebeca MojicaMetal mesh installations of papel picado
Salvador VázquezPapel picado made from recycled materials
Cynthia AlbertoPapel picado made from textile scraps

These artists and their modern interpretations of papel picado show that the art form is evolving and adapting to new audiences and contexts. It’s exciting to see how it will continue to change and grow in the future.

Cultural significance of papel picado in Mexican celebrations

Papel picado, which literally means “perforated paper,” is a colorful and intricate type of paper art that originated in Mexico. It is often used as decoration during special occasions, such as weddings, quinceañeras, and Day of the Dead celebrations. Each design is unique, with delicate details carved into the paper using scissors or chisels.

  • Papel picado is a symbol of Mexico’s rich cultural heritage and is often used to celebrate national holidays, such as Independence Day and Día de los Muertos.
  • The art of papel picado has been passed down from generation to generation, and many families have their own unique style and designs.
  • The intricacy and beauty of papel picado represents the value of handmade crafts in Mexican culture and the importance of preserving traditional art forms.

The number 5 holds special significance in Mexican culture and is often represented in papel picado designs. The five points of a star, for example, are a common design element and symbolize the Aztec god Huitzilopochtli.

3the holy trinity
4the four seasons or cardinal directions
5the five senses or the Aztec god Huitzilopochtli

Overall, papel picado is a beloved and vibrant part of Mexican culture, representing the country’s rich history, traditional art forms, and vibrant spirit.

Symbolism of Colors Used in Papel Picado

Papel Picado translates to “perforated paper” and is a Mexican folk art craft made from tissue paper. This colorful decoration is often seen during special occasions and celebrations such as Dia de los Muertos, Christmas, and weddings. The colors used in papel picado hold deep symbolism and meaning in Mexican culture, representing various aspects of life.

Number Six Symbolism in Papel Picado

The number six is a significant symbol in both Mexican culture and religion. In the indigenous Aztec culture, the six points of the star represent the six regions to which the tribes were divided. The six directions they formed were North, South, East, West, Above, and Below.

In Christian religion, six symbolizes the days of creation. The sixth day is when God created man and woman. In Mexican culture, the creation story is a blend of Aztec myths and religious beliefs. Hence, the use of six in papel picado carries both these symbols.

  • The six points of a star
  • The six directions representing unity and completeness
  • The sixth day of creation in Christian religion

The number six is also associated with family and community. Mexican families often live in multigenerational households, and community is an essential aspect of Mexican culture. Therefore, papel picado featuring the number six represents the importance of family and community and serves as a reminder to cherish these relationships.

To give a glimpse of the colors used in papel picado, below is a brief table:

RedRepresents the blood of Christ and denotes energy and passion
YellowStands for the sun, unity, and friendship
PurpleRepresents mourning for the dead
GreenSymbols hope, life, and springtime
BlueRepresents the sky and the sea, symbolizing harmony and stability
OrangeSymbolizes the strength and endurance of the sun

Overall, the colors and symbols used in papel picado are rich in history and deeply rooted in Mexican culture. They not only add a festive touch to special occasions but also hold a significant meaning and serve as a precious reminder of tradition and values.

Different uses of papel picado in Mexican culture

Papel picado is a Mexican folk art that is made by cutting colorful tissue paper into elaborate designs. This delicate art form has been a part of Mexican culture since the pre-Hispanic era. It is used in various celebrations and festivals throughout Mexico like the Day of the Dead and Independence Day. Below are some of the different uses of papel picado in Mexican culture:

The Number 7

In Mexican folklore, the number seven is considered to be a powerful number. It is believed that there are seven important stages of life, starting from birth and ending with death. The number seven is also associated with the Seven Archangels and the Seven Deadly Sins.

In Mexican culture, papel picado is often cut into intricate designs that incorporate the number seven. These designs are used in various celebrations and are believed to bring good luck and wealth. For instance, during weddings, papel picado with the number seven is often used to decorate the venue to symbolize the couple’s desire for a long and prosperous life together.

Below is a table of some of the popular designs of papel picado that incorporate the number seven:

Seven FlagsSeven specially designed flags that represent the stages of life.
Seven CirclesA circular design that has seven concentric circles, each representing one of the seven stages of life.
Seven ButterfliesSeven colorful butterflies, each representing a different stage of life.

Papel picado is a beautiful and intricate art form that is deeply ingrained in Mexican culture. Its use in celebrations and festivals symbolizes the importance of tradition, good luck, and prosperity. The symbolic use of the number seven in papel picado designs highlights the value placed on the stages of life and the desire for a happy and fulfilling journey through them.

Role of Papel Picado in Day of the Dead Celebrations

Papel picado is an iconic decoration that plays a significant role in the vibrant and colorful celebrations of Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, in Mexico and other Latin American countries. This traditional folk art reflects the rich cultural heritage and spiritual beliefs of the people who observe this holiday, and it symbolizes various aspects of life, death, and beyond.

The Number 8: A Symbol of Infinity

One of the fascinating symbols found in papel picado is the recurring motif of the number 8. Often seen in intricate designs and patterns, the figure 8 represents the concept of infinity, eternity, and the afterlife. It suggests that life and death are continuous cycles that never truly end, but rather, they transform into different forms and dimensions.

  • The number 8 also has an astrological meaning, attributed to the planet Saturn, which governs endings, time, and regeneration.
  • In Chinese culture, the number 8 is considered lucky and associated with prosperity and success.
  • In mathematics, the number 8 is a perfect cube and a power of two, revealing the symmetry and balance of the universe.

In the context of Day of the Dead, papel picado with the number 8 expresses the idea of honoring and celebrating the spirits of the deceased, who are believed to return to the earthly realm to reunite with their loved ones once a year. The intricate designs of papel picado represent the beauty and complexity of life, the fragility and impermanence of existence, and the joys and sorrows of human experience.

As we gaze at the delicate and colorful papel picado fluttering in the breeze, we are reminded of the interconnectedness of all things, the mysteries of the universe, and the power of our memories and traditions to keep the spirits of our ancestors alive. The number 8, with its infinite loops and curves, reminds us that life and death are not opposites, but integral parts of a grand cosmic plan that transcends time and space.

Symbolism of Papel PicadoMeaning
Skulls and SkeletonsDeath as a natural and humorous part of life, honoring ancestors
Flowers and CandlesCelebration, beauty, honoring the dead
Crosses and SpiritsReligious and spiritual beliefs, protection, guidance
Quotes and MessagesTributes to loved ones, expressions of gratitude and love
The Number 8Infinity, eternity, continuity of life and death

Overall, papel picado serves as a visual feast for the senses and a powerful symbol of cultural identity, artistic expression, and spiritual connection. By incorporating papel picado into their Day of the Dead celebrations, people pay tribute to their ancestors, share stories and memories, and celebrate the diversity and richness of life.

Techniques used in making papel picado

Papel picado is a traditional Mexican folk art that is used to celebrate various festive occasions such as Christmas, Easter, birthdays, weddings, and Day of the Dead. This beautiful and intricate paper craft involves cutting out elaborate patterns and designs in tissue paper using a hammer and chisels or a special knife. These hand-cut designs are then strung together to create banners, streamers, or flags that are used as decorations in homes, churches, and public spaces.

Number 9 in papel picado

The number 9 is an important symbol in Mexican culture and is often included in papel picado designs. This number is believed to have a divine significance and is associated with concepts such as completion, perfection, and the cycle of life. In particular, the number 9 is linked to the Mexican festival of Day of the Dead, which takes place on November 1st and 2nd. During this holiday, papel picado featuring the number 9 is often used to decorate graves and altars as a way of honoring deceased loved ones.

  • The number 9 can appear in papel picado designs as a single digit or as a repeated pattern.
  • Some common shapes used to represent the number 9 in papel picado include spirals, circles, and interlocking triangles.
  • The color of the tissue paper used in the design can also carry symbolic meaning. For example, orange is often used to represent the sun and the life cycle, while purple is associated with mourning.

Overall, the use of the number 9 in papel picado demonstrates the importance of tradition, spirituality, and cultural identity in Mexican art and celebrations.

Tools and materials for making papel picado

To create papel picado, you will need a few key tools and materials:

  • Tissue paper in various colors
  • A hammer and chisels or a special papel picado knife
  • A cutting mat or surface
  • Scissors
  • String or ribbon for hanging the finished designs

Step-by-step process for making papel picado

To make papel picado, follow these basic steps:

  1. Begin by folding several sheets of tissue paper together accordion-style. The number of sheets will depend on how long you want the finished design to be.
  2. Using a pencil, sketch your design onto the top layer of tissue paper. You can also use pre-made stencils or templates if you prefer.
  3. Using a hammer and chisels or a special papel picado knife, carefully cut out the design. Be sure to cut through all the layers of tissue paper at once to ensure consistency.
  4. Unfold the folded tissue paper to reveal the finished design.
  5. Thread the designs onto string or ribbon and hang them up to display.

With a little practice and patience, anyone can learn to create beautiful papel picado designs that capture the spirit and vibrancy of Mexican culture and tradition.

Impact of papel picado on Mexican art and craft industry

Papel picado is a traditional Mexican decorative craft made from tissue paper. It is widely used during celebrations such as weddings, Birthdays, Dia Del Muertos (Day of the dead) and Independence Day. It is a pre-Hispanic art form that the Aztecs used in their religious ceremonies as a symbol of happiness and fortune.

Today, papel picado is a popular art form that reflects the colorful and vibrant culture of Mexico. Its impact on Mexican art and craft industry is significant as it has become a source of income for many Mexican families. The popularity of papel picado has led to the development of new styles, designs, and techniques that have elevated the traditional craft to a new level of artistry.

The influence of papel picado on Mexican Folk Art

  • Papel picado has had a significant influence on Mexican folk art as it is a traditional art form that has been passed down from generation to generation.
  • It has inspired many Mexican folk artists to create new designs, patterns, and techniques that reflect the cultural heritage of Mexico.
  • Today, papel picado is a vital element of Mexican folk art, and many artworks created around Mexico use papel picado in their designs.

Papel picado as a source of income for Mexican families

Many Mexican families depend on papel picado as a source of income, particularly during seasonal celebrations. The craft has provided many with the opportunity to earn a living and support their families.

Moreover, papel picado has generated employment opportunities for many people involved in the production, distribution, and sales of papel picado. It is a crucial part of the Mexican economy and contributes significantly to the growth of the artisanal sector.

The evolution of papel picado in the fashion industry

The use of papel picado in the fashion industry has contributed to the popularity of the traditional craft. Today, many fashion designers incorporate papel picado into their designs to create unique and colorful garments.

Paco RabanneThe designer used papel picado in his collection of dresses that were showcased at Paris Fashion Week in 2013.
Cynthia VincentThe designer created a collection of summer dresses inspired by Mexican culture. The dresses feature papel picado patterns.
AltaRomaThe fashion event showcased a collection of Mexican-inspired designs that used papel picado in their designs.

Overall, papel picado has had a significant impact on the Mexican art and craft industry. It has become a symbol of Mexican culture and has inspired many artists and designers to create new designs that reflect the rich heritage of Mexico.

What Does Papel Picado Symbolize?

1. What is papel picado?
Papel picado is a Mexican folk art form made out of tissue paper. It usually features intricate designs and patterns that are cut out with a chisel and hammer.

2. What does papel picado symbolize?
Papel picado symbolizes life, death, and everything in between. Its designs often depict religious or cultural elements and serve as a reminder of the impermanence of life.

3. How is papel picado used in celebrations?
Papel picado is commonly used in celebrations such as Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), weddings, and other cultural events. It is hung from ceilings or walls, creating a festive atmosphere.

4. What colors are used in papel picado?
Papel picado is traditionally made with bright colors such as pink, yellow, purple, and blue. These colors are thought to represent happiness, celebration, and hope.

5. How is papel picado made?
Papel picado is made by folding tissue paper, drawing a design onto the top layer, and then cutting it with a chisel and hammer. The designs can be simple or complex depending on the artist’s skill level.

6. What is the history of papel picado?
The origin of papel picado can be traced back to pre-Columbian times, where it was made from tree bark. The tradition was then passed down through generations and eventually evolved into the tissue paper form we see today.

7. How can I incorporate papel picado into my own celebrations?
If you’re looking to incorporate papel picado into your own celebrations, consider using it as a decoration for festive occasions such as birthdays, anniversary parties, or cultural events. You can also make your own by purchasing tissue paper and following DIY instructions.

Closing Thoughts

Thanks for reading all about what papel picado symbolizes. As you can see, this type of folk art holds a special place in Mexican culture and serves as a beautiful reminder of the beauty and fragility of life. We hope you’ve learned something new and look forward to seeing you again soon for more cultural explorations. Hasta luego!