Catrina Culture

Día de los Muertos

Forget about Christmas. (Don’t really. I still love Christmas.) Día de los Muertos is the most beautiful and welcoming holiday on the calendar. In Mexico, it’s a national holiday. School is out. You have the day off work. Take that Halloween!

Like all great celebrations, there is pageantry, traditions, and a warm embrace of loved ones. Día de los Muertos takes place over two days. Very much like Christmas and Passover, we “Sunrise, Sunset” our way through all these holidays. In Mexico, Easter takes a whole week called Semana Santa.

November 1 is All Saints Day, celebrating the living and is focused on children. November 2 is All Souls Day, honoring/remembering family members and friends who have “shuffled off this mortal coil.” The marriage of Aztec traditions with Spanish Colonial Catholic culture produces a unique and beautiful celebration that acknowledges the circle of life, birth, life, death, and rebirth.

Puerto Vallarta is filled with papel picados or cut paper flags, sugar skulls, face-painting, and Calaveras (skulls). Puerto Vallarta’s Malecon (boardwalk along the beach) is lined with huge Día de los Muertos figures and alters. Many elaborate alters feature colored sand and stones decoratively laid out into a pattern. Photographs or sculptures tell the story of the loved one’s life and express love for those passed. The Catrinas I have created mostly are inspired by the large Catrina figures that line Puerto Vallarta’s Malecon.

La Catrina is the “face” of the Día de los Muertos holiday – but she was not the first! Mictēcacihuātl – the queen of the Aztec underworld of Chicunamictlan was the central figure for anyone who passed on in the Aztec culture. The Aztecs celebrated death as a part of the cycle of life, leaving offerings or temporary altars or “ofrendas” intended to assist them on their journey beyond death. The ofrenda tradition has carried on to the present day – combining with Catholic customs around All Saints Day.

La Calavera Catrina originated as a 1910 etching by the Mexican cartoonist José Guadalupe Posada. La Catrina has become an icon of the Mexican Día de Muertos. She gained fame appearing in Diego Rivera’s 1947 mural Sueño de una Tarde Dominical en la Alameda Central (Dream of a Sunday afternoon along Central Alameda). A star was born.

Catrina is subversive. She makes fun of the wealthy — their pretensions, excesses, lavish clothing, and airs. She was born as sharp-edged satire, a response to the dictator Porfirio Días and the dominant upper “Spanish” class. She uses her beautiful hatpin to burst the bubble of moneyed hypocrites. She is a reminder that wealth and its trappings are fleeting. In the end, time runs out and we all return to the earth. To quote Stephen Sondheim’s “Ladies Who Lunch,” “Everybody dies!

Día de los Muertos celebrates the memories of loved ones, keeping them alive for the living. In addition to the celebrations, parades, make-up, masks and costumes, families gather at family graves for picnics, eating Pan de Muerto, a sugared bread. Marigolds are the flower for the holiday and grace graves, alters, and beautiful women.

There are thousands of Catrinas. A Catrina for every occupation and role imaginable. There are also lots of male figures, but when it comes to the dead, they are secondary to the star. Catrina! I honor Catrina with many creations that celebrate her spirit and this joyous holiday.

Checkout my Día de los Muertos sections of my Portfolio and Store.  Both are filled with Catrinas.

This is my most recent Dia de los Muertos piece titled “Catrina con sombrero” “Catrina in a Sunhat”

* All of the photographs are of the figures and alters on the Malecón in Puerto Vallarta.  There is one exception: the famous etching of La Calavera Catrina by José Guadalupe Posada.