By Julie R Butler
With its ancient Mesoamerican roots, Día de Muertos is the perfect example of how the Mexican people have kept their rich cultural traditions alive by allowing them to evolve so they remain relevant to people’s lives through the changing times. While the most enduring traditions of this holiday honoring loved ones who have passed away are the colorful ofrendas and the emotive gravesite rituals, customs also often include lively music, dancing, theatrical performances, and parades. So it’s no wonder that Día de Muertos has been embraced as the ultimate representation of the passion and vibrancy of Mexican culture, and there’s an intriguing feedback loop between pop culture references to Mexico’s most famous holiday and the way the holiday is celebrated in real life.
Photo by Julie R Butler
La Calavera Catrina Represents the Mexican Attitude Toward Death
La Calavera Catrina is the common name for a zinc etching created by Mexican illustrator José Guadalupe Posada in 1910 that has become an iconic image of Día de Muertos. Its original title was La Calavera Garbancera, and it was meant to satirize indigenous people in Mexico who adopted European fashions because they were ashamed of their own heritage.
Image by José Guadalupe Posada, Public Domain
It was the muralist Diego Rivera who gave us the name “Catrina” when he featured an elegantly dressed skeleton in his mural Sueño de una Tarde Dominical en la Alameda Central, as the term “catrín” means stylish or well off.
Photo by Flickr user momo, CC BY 2.0
La Calavera Catrina has become ubiquitous throughout Mexico as a symbol of the Mexican attitude toward death, which is to embrace death as a part of the great circle of life.
Photo by Julie R Butler
The 2015 James Bond movie Spectre Inspires a New Tradition
A century later, some folks who wanted to create an impressive opening sequence for their action flick determined to set the scene in one of the most vibrant cities in the world during a major celebration – and thus, a Day of the Dead parade in Mexico City’s Centro Histórico was developed for the amazing long-take opening of the James Bond movie Spectre. The opening scene was so invigorating that chilangos were inspired to start a whole new tradition of having a massive Day of the Dead parade in CDMX on 2 November each year. It’s not that this kind of parade was something unprecedented in Mexico, because the movie parade was itself inspired by events that take place elsewhere in the country. However, the sheer scale of the new parade, in addition to its location in the beating heart of Mexico City and the fact that it was inspired by a fictional movie plot, makes it a case of life imitating art to the umpteenth degree.
The Movie Coco Beautifully Captures the Vitality of Mexico’s Day of the Dead Celebrations
Three weeks after opening in Mexico just ahead of the 2017 Day of the Dead festivities (and before it even premiered in the United States), the Disney-Pixar film Coco became the highest-grossing film ever in the Mexican market. The movie company struck box office gold with a family film that is so beautifully rendered that Mexicans are proud of the way it represents one of their most important traditions. Centered on an unforgettable cast of loveable characters, Coco brings Day of the Dead to life for people around the world who value music, celebration, and above all, family – and that set of priorities is indeed something Mexicans should very proud of!
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