Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) is my favorite national Mexican holiday. That makes sense considering it’s the Mexican version of Halloween, which is Mittie Iguana’s favorite holiday stateside (though Day of the Dead long predates it and is significantly cooler.) It happens between October 31st and November 2nd and while it is in conjunction with the Catholic holiday All Saints Day (Nov. 1) and All Souls Day (Nov. 2), it is one of the greatest parties of the year. Yet another great excuse to break out the tequila, only this time it’s to honor the dead.
The celebration of Day of the Dead in Mexico reaches back 3000 years to various indigenous peoples who celebrated their ancestors and used symbols such as the human skull to represent life and death. More specifically, hundreds of years ago the Aztecs had a month long festival in the fall honoring “the Lady of the Dead,” currently know as the Catrina.
The Catrina is still the most prominent symbol of Day of the Dead here in Mexico. They are skeletons in dressed in elegant dresses, gloves and enormous hats with flowers. They may be presented in sculpture, rice and bean mosaics, and even as tequila drinking fools (like yours truly) who dress up as Catrinas to party (with respect of course.) Other symbols include delicately decorated sugar skulls (less gruesome than the real thing), prayer flags and marigolds.
The modern celebration enters around building altars for the loved ones who have died or to honor long-since passed ancestors. Often, people create altars for famous public figures who have died like Frida Kahlo or Diego Rivera. The altar usually consists of a photo of the person surrounded by their favorite things and fresh marigolds. Their favorite things traditionally include food and drinks, particularly of the alcoholic variety. As you can imagine the most popular booze around these parts is tequila …and so we indulge in honor of those who have gone before us and of the many agaves that died to produce our beverage of choice.