Love for Mexico

Día de Muertos: Honoring the Dead and Celebrating Life October 29 2019, 0 Comments

By Julie R Butler

To people who aren’t familiar with Mexican culture, Day of the Dead may seem to be some kind of morbid death cult. Or, since the annual holiday falls on 2 November, many people think it’s just the Mexican version of Halloween. But those assumptions couldn’t be further from the truth! 

With Día de Muertos celebrations gaining increasing worldwide attention in recent years, let’s take a look at what it’s really all about for Mexicans and anyone else who is interested in looking at death and the loss of loved ones from a different perspective.

Colorful Day of the Dead calaveras
Photo by Sam Brand on Unsplash

Día de Muertos Is about Honoring and Connecting with Deceased Loved Ones

At the heart of Día de Muertos is the concept of honoring and connecting with loved ones who have passed away. That’s what the ofrendas (altars) are for – they’re meant to attract the spirits of the dead. Families create elaborate altars in their homes with photographs of the deceased as well as offerings of their favorite food and drink. They are traditionally adorned with orange cempasúchitl flowers (marigolds), brightly colored tissue paper decorations called papel picado, and particular foods such as pan de muerto (sweet bread made just for this holiday), calabasa en dulce (candied pumpkin), and tamales.

Ofrenda de día de muertos
Photo by Paolaricaurte, CC BY-SA 4.0

Sugar skulls are another common feature of ofrendas. These candy skulls harken back to Aztec times, when they were made of amaranth seeds and honey instead of sugar, which didn’t exist in pre-Colombian Mexico. Candles are lit and copal incense is burned to attract the spirits of the dead, as well.

Amaranth and honey skulls
Photo by Abbie yang, CC BY-SA 3.0 

Another way Mexicans connect with deceased loved ones is by gathering at their gravesites to share food and drink, stories, poetry, and music. Gravesites are cleaned up and decorated with yet more ofrendas featuring cempasuchitl along with other beautiful flowers, photos, candles, fruits, and skulls. While the mood at the gravesite gatherings may sometimes turn solemn, there’s generally a festive atmosphere because getting together with those you love is thought to be a joyous occasion.

Burning copal for Day of the Dead
Photo by Jordi Cueto-Felgueroso Arocha, CC BY-SA 4.0

Mocking the Grim Reaper with Elegantly Dressed Skeletons 

In addition to the intensely personal family ofrendas and gravesite observances, Day of the Dead also spills out onto the streets with colorful calaveras, effervescent parades filled with festive skeletons, and many other fun, artistic displays and activities. And throughout the country, people transform themselves into Calaveras Catrinas, where the males dress up in fancy duds, the women wear fine dresses and oftentimes, big, fancy hats, and faces are painted to look like skeletons with beautiful designs – much like the sugar skulls. I’ve even seen live dogs spray-painted to look like skeleton dogs!

Calavera Catrina in CDMX
Photo by Salvador Altamirano on Unsplash 

If this sounds an awful lot to you like the movie Coco, it’s because the filmmakers did a fantastic job of capturing the lively spirit of Día de Muertos just as it is IRL! (Well, except for the alebrijes as animal spirit guides – they made that part up). As the movie depicts, Day of the Dead really is all about family togetherness while dressing up, laughing, and expressing joy in the face of death. It’s the distinctly Mexican way of accepting death as a part of the great circle of life.

JULIE R BUTLER IS A FREELANCE WRITER AND EDITOR LIVING IN PÁTZCUARO, MICHOACÁN. SHE HAS 20-PLUS YEARS' EXPERIENCE EXPLORING MÉXICO, CENTRAL AMERICA, ARGENTINA, AND URUGUAY. IN ADDITION TO WRITING ABOUT THE WONDERS OF LIVING IN MÉXICO, SHE SPECIALIZES NEW TECHNOLOGIES – PARTICULARLY, HYDROPONICS AND SMART-CITY TECH. ONLINE PORTFOLIO: HTTPS://JULIERBUTLER.CONTENTLY.COM/

Día de Muertos in Pop Culture: The Mexican Art of Celebrating Life October 23 2019, 0 Comments

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.

Día de Muertos en Tzintzuntzan, Michoacán
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.

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.

Diego Rivera’s Catrina
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.

Catrinas for sale in Pátzcuaro, Michoacán
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!

You can find a great selection of products for Dia de Muertos in our store here: 

JULIE R BUTLER IS A FREELANCE WRITER AND EDITOR LIVING IN PÁTZCUARO, MICHOACÁN. SHE HAS 20-PLUS YEARS' EXPERIENCE EXPLORING MÉXICO, CENTRAL AMERICA, ARGENTINA, AND URUGUAY. IN ADDITION TO WRITING ABOUT THE WONDERS OF LIVING IN MÉXICO, SHE SPECIALIZES NEW TECHNOLOGIES – PARTICULARLY, HYDROPONICS AND SMART-CITY TECH. ONLINE PORTFOLIO: HTTPS://JULIERBUTLER.CONTENTLY.COM/

How Mexico City Celebrates Day of the Dead 2019 October 15 2019, 0 Comments

By Julie R Butler

Día de Muertos is an important tradition in Mexico that takes place 2 November. It also incorporates Día de los Angelitos on 1 November, when many Mexican families honor infants and children who have passed away, making it a multi-day observance rather than just a single day affair, as the name implies. But wait – it’s actually a three-day celebration that begins on 31 October, the day dedicated to creating the ofrendas that attract the spirits of the dead to visit, according to some regional traditions.

Calaveras
Photo by Valeria Almaraz on Unsplash

Then there’s Mexico City, where Day of the Dead has morphed into an entire month-long festival season that has been drawing international attention for its massive, carnival-like events. 

Here is the lineup of the biggest 2019 Día de Muertos events in Mexico City to watch out for, whether you’re able to be there live and in person or you would like to observe the spectacles from afar.

Saturday 19 October: Parade of Giant Alebrijes, Zócalo, 12 am

Having started out as the fever dreams of artisan Pedro Linares, alebrijas have come alive in Mexican culture, first as colorful, fantastical folk art and then as the giant sculptures parading through the streets of Mexico City. The annual Desfile de Alebrijes Monumentales is organized by the Museo de Arte Popular to honor Mexico’s vibrant folk art traditions. The parade is scheduled to start at the Zócalo at noon.

Alebrije Monumental “Michin Rojo”
Photo by Thelmadatter, CC BY-SA 3.0

Saturday 19 October: Marcha Zombie, Monument to the Revolution, 10 am

On the same day as the alebrije parade, the dead will come alive in the streets of Mexico City! The CDMX Zombie March begins at 10 am at the Monumento a la Revolución. Organized by Unidos Distribuimos y Transformamos, this horde of ghouls comes out each year to have fun and make food donations for distribution to those in need.

Zombie March (Toronto)
Photo by Andrevruas, CC BY-SA 3.0 

Saturday 26 October: Mega Procession of Catrinas, Paseo de la Reforma, 6 pm

Long before the rise of zombies in today’s popular culture, Mexico’s elegantly dressed skeletons, known as calavera Catrinas, were common features of Day of the Dead celebrations throughout Mexico, often imbued with a social critique. Although you’re bound to see plenty of faces with colorful Catrina designs at Muertos-themed festivities across the globe this year, there’s nothing quite like the joyful Mega Procesión de Catrinas in the heart of Mexico City.

Sunday 27 October: International Day of the Dead Parade, Zócalo, 2 pm

This year, the fourth annual Desfile Internacional de Muertos has the slogan, “A Gift of Mexican Songs and Flowers for the World,” and it has a new route. Its goal is to showcase Mexico’s vibrant and diverse culture on the world stage. Allegorical floats, giant marionettes, and over a thousand participants make it Mexico’s biggest parade.

Saturday 2 November: Grand Day of the Dead Parade, Paseo de la Reforma, 4 pm

El Gran Desfile de Día de Muertos occurs on the actual Day of the Dead, and it is the parade that was inspired by the 2015 James Bond movie Spectre. It starts later in the day, and rather than beginning at the Zócalo, like the international parade, it ends up there. Also, instead of having a grand theme or cultural tradition behind it, this parade is a giant celebration of how younger generations of Mexicans are able to take an age-old tradition and make it their own!

Now, check out Shoptezuma's Dia de Muertos collection by clicking below:
Dia de Muertos Collection
JULIE R BUTLER IS A FREELANCE WRITER AND EDITOR LIVING IN PÁTZCUARO, MICHOACÁN. SHE HAS 20-PLUS YEARS' EXPERIENCE EXPLORING MÉXICO, CENTRAL AMERICA, ARGENTINA, AND URUGUAY. IN ADDITION TO WRITING ABOUT THE WONDERS OF LIVING IN MÉXICO, SHE SPECIALIZES NEW TECHNOLOGIES – PARTICULARLY, HYDROPONICS AND SMART-CITY TECH. ONLINE PORTFOLIO: HTTPS://JULIERBUTLER.CONTENTLY.COM/