Jose-Guadalupe-Posada

La Calavera Catrina is a 1910–1913 zinc etching by Mexican printmaker, cartoon illustrator, and lithographer José Guadalupe Posada. The image depicts a female skeleton dressed only in a hat befitting the upper class outfit of a European of her time. She is meant to portray a satirization of those Mexican natives who, Posada felt, were over embracing European traditions of the aristocracy in the pre-revolutionary era. La Catrina has become an icon of the Mexican Dia de los Muertos celebrations.

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"Día de los Muertos" Explained for foreigners

Okay, I’ll try to make this simple for everybody to understand

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This lovely woman over there is known as “La Catrina” drawn by Jose Guadalupe Posada in 1910, but back then her name was “Calavera Garbancera”, the last name being a term used to mock indigenous citizens who refused to acknowledge their roots and pretended to be European…but they were poor as well.  

However it was Diego Rivera who named her “La Catrina” in one of his paintings “Sueño de una tarde dominical en la Alameda Central”, where she appeared along her creator and dressed as a rich person.

But what does she have to do with the “Día de los Muertos”?

It’s easy, she has become an iconic representation of it…along with the works of Jose Guadalupe Posada who, mind you, invented the “Calaveras”: poems that vary in length but are always about people cheating death (or La Parca), winning or loosing their lives.

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And this is another job of this fine man. Most of his images were critics to the society of that time but have become iconic representations of this celebration as well.

But weren’t you going to explain this “Día de los Muertos?”

Oh! Of course! Okay so here’s the thing:
This “Día de los Muertos” (Day of the Dead), is a celebration that begins in November 1st, “Día de los fieles difuntos”, a day to celebrate the kids who passed away and finishes the following day, “El Día de los Muertos”, the big day.

It is believed that, during those days, the ghosts of those who left this world return to spend some time with those who are left behind among the living.

Altar de Muertos

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This isn’t something that is put all the year to decorate the house (it’s meant to be put only for two days)…this is a special thing that does something wonderful: remember those who died and were special to us. This is the reason that there is a photograph of the honoured person atop of it.

There is a special type of flower used for this: cempasuchitl, which is believed to guide the spirits of people to their respective altars.

And, if you can notice it, there are plenty of colours over it, decorations made with papel mache, candles, toys (those are mostly for the kids), and decorations on the ground that act like the flower that I mentioned above.

Now, there’s a candy unique to this day that is only made during the holidays: Calaverita de azucar (sugar skull), the sweetest thing you’ll ever eat, I guarantee it, since it’s basically sugar in all of it’s glory. But it’s not just a pile of sugar, no, it’s sugar in the form of a skull, decorated to look like this:

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The thing of their foreheads is a space where one writes the name of those who left this world…or you could write your own as well.

The “Altar the Muertos” also has food on it, besides the sugar skulls, like “Pan de Muerto” (Dead bread) and no, it’s not rotten bread, it’s actually bread with a good layer of sugar above it, shaped to look like this:

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And it’s only made during the holidays too.

So there’s food on this “Altar de Muertos”?

You can bet there is! but it’s not for you!….well, not at all, but it’s for the one who died (that person that is being honoured),hence the reason that there’s food on it. Food that the one who died liked while still alive… you see: the ghost comes to your house and, if there’s food that he/she used to eat, he/she’ll feel like at home. So, long story short: the ghost eats the soul of his/her favourite food, then leaves during November 2nd.

After that you and your family can eat the food left at the altar but it won’t taste like it usually does.

This Altar can be put in either your house of at the graveyard, covering the tombstone of the one it’s destined to. Either way it still is a beautiful sight.

Did I mention that you can put it on a graveyard? Well, now you know.

Where does it come from?

This wonderful celebration comes from the prehispanic era, where it was accompanied by Mictecacíhuatl, the Lady of Death, all in honour of the kids and adults who died (and it has retained those aspects to the date).

However, during the Conquest of Mexico, the religious people mixed it with their European traditions and so it was born.

  Can I celebrate it even if I’m not mexican?

Of course you can! Just keep in mind that it’s not like Halloween and it has a deep meaning beneath the colours:

  • To honour those who left us behind in the road of life
  • Remember them and have them closer to us
  • And mock death…in a respectful manner

It’s not only a party thrown out just because of yes, OH HELL NO! It’s a meaningful celebration to link the past with the future and cherish life even after death.

¡FELIZ DÍA DE MUERTOS!