La Catrina and The Day of the Dead

by MSO
Two colorful statues of La Catrina during Mexican Day of the Dead festivities

La Catrina has been an icon of the Mexican Day of the Dead celebration for over 100 years.

She is the grand dame of death and takes the spotlight during the Mexican holiday of El Dia de los Muertos that takes place every November 1st and 2nd.. The image of La Calavera Catrina, meaning ‘elegant skull’, is of a grinning female skeleton and originates with Mictecacihuatl or the Lady of the Dead who was believed to be the keeper of the bones in the underworld during the Aztec period.

The image of “La Catrina” is credited to Jose Guadalupe Posada who was a Mexican illustrator and cartoonist. Around 1910 he created an etching of a grinning female skull wearing a European fancy hat. He meant the drawing as a satirical warning to Mexicans who, he believed were adopting too many of the European styles and ways of life. He also wanted to show that death had no class culture – the rich and the poor alike were the same in death. La Catrina became a symbol in the Mexican Revolution that started in 1910.

Diego Rivera, a Mexican painter, used Posada’s Catrina in one of his paintings and gave her a body, clothed in rich clothes to go along with her grinning skull. The images of both artists became the model for the icon that is La Catrina today. During the festivities, La Catrina is in every decorated village feasting and celebrating life with the community.

The Day of the Dead illustrates one of the biggest differences between Mexico and other Latin American countries and the rest of North America’s attitude toward death. While most North Americans feel that death and mourning is an occasion to dread, people who celebrate The Day of the Dead remember relatives and friends with happiness and revel in the joy of life.

Find out more about El Dia de los Muertos

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