Whilst writing yesterday’s post about my memories of Halloween as a child, I learned about another spooky date in the calender. El Dia de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead in English, is a two day festival that takes place on 1st and 2nd November each year in countries around the world, especially throughout Latin America. Whilst superficially the two festivals may appear similar, with the array of skulls and skeletons in their imagery, the Day of the Dead has a rich history of its own.
Originating in Mexico, the festival is a celebration of death and remembrance of the deceased that incorporates elements from both Catholic and Aztec tradition. Families create elaborately memorials to their loved ones, decorated with marigold flowers, candles and sugar skulls, leaving gifts and offerings of favourite food and drinks. Candlelit vigils are held by gravesides, but far from being a sombre affair, communities gather together to picnic, play music and share memories.
The key figure in the Dia de los Muertos celebration is La Caterina, a tall female skeleton wearing an elaborate hat or floral headdress, which has ties to Mictecacihuatl, the Aztec goddess of the underworld. Originally a satirical figure, La Caterina has become a popular theme for fancy dress costumes, with elaborate face painting and embellishment to create the look of a decorated skull, like in the stunning example below.
Whilst I love the look of the festival from the pictures I’ve seen, I’m not sure whether or not being there would be an experience I’d add to my travel bucket list. The very nature of the celebrations, remembering one’s lost loved ones, is something so intensely personal that calling it a “travel experience” could seem a bit like cultural commodification, almost on the edge of voyeurism.
What do you think? Have you been to a Dia de los Muertos celebration? Would you like to see it?