Day of the Dead is a holiday celebrated in Mexico, other countries in Latin America, some places in the US with large Hispanic populations, some countries in Europe, and the Philippines. Based on the Catholic holidays of All Saints Day and All Souls Day, “Day of the Dead” generally is a day of remembrance of loved ones who have died, commemorated with visits to the cemetery. Families often light candles at the graves and leave offerings of flowers (especially marigolds, “cempasúchiles“), or for children, sweets and toys. Many people also make an altar in their home, dedicated to their loved ones who have passed away.
The weeks leading up to Day of the Dead, shops and markets in Mexico are filled with skeletons (calacas)- dressed up and doing everyday things. They are decorated, whimsical, and funny, and often assume every day activities: playing guitars, working as a carpenter, going fishing, or getting married. They might be made of paper maché, wood, chocolate or sugar. In some parts of Mexico, there is a procession through the town of older teens carrying a coffin with someone dressed as a skeleton. People toss in coins, mandarin oranges, or candy into the coffin.
In Mexico, the “Day of the Dead” celebration results from a combination of pre-Hispanic beliefs merging with the Catholic holiday “All Saint’s Day.” People celebrate death because it is seen as a part of the natural life cycle: flowers that die leave behind seeds that will sprout a new life, and people who pass on leave many gifts for their families. The whimsical skeletons and skulls are a playful symbol of life after death, many times representing those who have died engaging in their favorite activities.
In 1910, an Mexican artist named José Guadalupe Posada made an etching and print of a skeleton he called “La Catrina.” La Catrina represented a wealthy, upper-class woman, and was part of a series that included skeletons as humorous images of contemporary figures. This “La Catrina” is an iconic symbol of Día de los Muertos, and you will see her image everywhere (not only during Day of the Dead!).
Now it’s your turn- check out this art project to make your own calaca (skull)!