What is the Day of the Dead?
The Day of the dead is one of the most important holidays in Mexico. Taking place every November 1st and 2nd, it is a celebration that gathers friends and family to pray and remember their loved ones who have passed away, and support their spiritual journey. However, it is believed that the dead would be insulted by mourning or sadness. Thus, the Day of the Dead festivals are meant to celebrate the lives of the deceased with food, drink, parties, festivals and activities the dead enjoyed in their lifetime.
In Mexico, people recognize that death is a natural part of human existence, a continuum of birth, childhood, and becoming a contributing member of the community. On the Day of Dead, the dead are also part of the community, awakened from their eternal sleep to share celebrations with their loved ones. It is during this holiday that we see a great combination of indigenous Aztec rituals and Spanish customs and beliefs. The Aztecs had a month long festival honouring the dead and the death-goddess Mictecacihuatl, keeper of the bones in the underworld. When the Spanish conquered Mexico, Christian beliefs superimposed that of the indigenous people and eventually created the Day of the Dead as we know it today.
The most familiar symbols of the Dead of the Dead are the calacas and calaveras (skeletons and skulls), which appear everywhere during this time as candied sweets, parade masks, dolls and much more. These two symbols are almost always portrayed as enjoying life, often in fancy clothes and entertaining situations. They are an integral part of this celebration.
Perhaps the most iconic element of the whole celebration is the satirical character; La Catrina. Created in 1910-1913 by José Guadalupe Posada, this “Elegant Skull” is a female skeleton dressed like an upper class European of the 20th century, with a chapeau en attende. With this character, Posada meant to represent the Mexicans who were adopting European traditions and forgetting their own during the pre-revolutionary era. Overtime, La Catrina became a central part of the Day of the dead.
In 2008 the tradition was inscribed in the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO