La Catrina: 5 Things to know about Dia de los Muertos

Skeleton art in doorway Guanajuato Mexico

It is easy to be enthralled by the beauty of Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead. The Mexican holiday that celebrates death. Understanding so, the imagery associated is stunning and magical. The costumed Catrinas, with their black and white painted faces juxtaposed by beautiful altars strung in bright orange marigolds, can take your breath away.

1. La Catrina, the fancy lady with a skeleton face has everything to do with what was happening during the revolution in Mexico around the 1910s. The image of a fancy lady with a skeleton face was social commentary created by the artist Jose Guadelupe Posada about elite Mexicans who were obsessed with all things European and putting aside their Mexican culture.

2. The Catrina was later popularized by Diego Rivera who painted a Catrina standing next to Frida Kahlo in his famous mural ‘Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Park’ in 1947. 

3. Both Diego and Posada were incorporating Aztec symbolism. The Aztecs honored the Queen of the underworld Mictecacihuatl and it is the Aztec’s ideas about death that synchronized with Catholicism and later became what we know as Dia de los Muertos.

4. The heart of Dia de los Muertos is on November 2nd when families go to the cemetery to clean gravesites and spend time remembering those who have departed. It is a national holiday, banks are closed and people don’t go to work or school. I was fortunate to visit a cemetery on November 2nd in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Mariachi bands were playing, no one seemed sad or was crying. There were tons of people and it was a joyous affair.

5. While Mexico (and elsewhere) contends with the influence of the United States, dressing up as a Catrina in Mexico is not necessarily evidence of Halloween encroaching on Mexico culture. Younger generations are encouraged to take part in the Catrina look as a way to stay connected to Dia de los Muertos. This may be true with the Mexico city parade for example, that began in 2016 after the James Bond movie, Spectre. The parade will encourage tourism but that is not necessarily a bad thing so long as visitors understand the true meaning of the holiday.

Also interesting to know is that other countries and cultures in Latin America celebrate All Saints Day on November 1rst. There is a great article about that here on Remezcla.

Europeans historically have had a connection to this day in pre-Christan times sometimes called Samhain, where they also believed it was a time to connect to the world of spirits and departed souls. But for most of us, that lineage is long gone.

Isn’t interesting that around the world many different people felt a connection to death around this time year, the same time that plants and flowers also die in North America?

More about Dia de los Muertos in San Miguel de Allende, with photos.