The quiet city of La Paz erupts in celebrations full of dance, art, and skulls over two nights each year. The Dia de Muertos (Day of the Dead) Festival actually hums to life months before with preparations to outdo what was done last year, to commemorate better, to express the beautiful death as Mexican culture experiences it.
As the sun casts longs deepening shadows, the marvels of the night emerge — the Calaveras and Catarinas. These costumed and solemn performers have registered for the major prizes. Creativity takes over as the historical characters are interpreted by young and old, men and women, even horses are costumed!
Who are the Catarinas and Calaveras?
La Flaca, the embodiment of death, is a woman according to the historical culture of Mexico. She goes by many names but most know her as La Catarina (the Fancy Lady). She accompanies the dead to the other side and reunites them with loved ones so they can spend eternity together. The costumes are not specifically Mexican but derived satirically from a popular artist who made fun of the upper classes while mimicking Spanish aristocracy during the reign of Porfirio Diaz in the late 1900’s. Jose Guadeloupe Posada created the emaciated character and illustrated her wearing fancy clothes, often dancing or playing musical instruments.
In Mexican culture, it’s believed that the veil between the living and the dead is thinnest at this time. It may be a legacy of Spanish Catholics who dutifully observed All Souls Day on November 1st. Certainly, it has nothing to do with the North American tradition of Halloween, except perhaps for dressing up. During these days families believe that ghosts are near. If you find it chilling, watch the movie Coco where Disney portrayed the yearning and loving traditions with bright colors and music.
Reproduced from an article by Elaine Masters in Travel Awaits