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Day of the Dead

Day of the Dead

The Dead as part of Life in the Mexican Culture

The Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) is one of the most important celebrations in Mexico, on this day traditionally in Mexico, the dead are remembered. The Dead is ever present and a part of Life. Specially noticeable is that during the time around the Día de Muertos, when the “Calaveras” (skeletons made in papermache or sugar) are seen in every day situations, and the streets and stores are decorated, the celebration takes place from November 1st. to the 2nd.

The Día de Muertos is not a sad event, but a colourful folk fest celebrating the dead. In the people’s belief the souls of the departed return once more to the family during this day. During this day, thought for the dead are in the foreground. The streets are decorated, and flowers, death symbols, skeletons and skulls in the most diverse of ways, are placed in the windows; overall the most seen figure is that of the ”Calavera Catrina”.

Afterwards, at night on November 1st. the souls of the departed are welcomed home, and people gather in the cemeteries and graves to welcome them. The people bring with them “ofrendas” (offerings) which consist of meals and drinks the departed liked, as well as candles, flowers and music. Spending the night there, and saying goodbye till next year on the Día de Muertos.

The Day of the Dead is a time for celebration. The celebration has its origins in an Aztec festival, where after festivals and parades, people gathered at cementeries to pray for their dead loved ones. The skulls symbolized death and rebirth. The celebration where dedicated to the goddess known as the ‘Lady of the Dead’, corresponding to the modern ”Catrina”. The belief behind is that people go to the cementerie to build this altars, to encourage visits by the souls of the departed. Celebrations can take a humorous tone, as celebrants remember funny events and anecdotes about the departed. The marigolds are thought to attract souls of the dead to the offerings. The offerings are called Ofrendas. As part of the celebration, people write short poems called calaveras (skulls), mocking epitaphs of friends, or describing annecdotes.

A common symbol of the holiday is the ”Calavera (skull), Calacas (skeleton) and Catrina”. Sugar skulls with the name of the recipient on the forehead are gifted during this time.

La Catrina (a skeleton Lady)

Was born in 1913 as a zinc etching by Mexican printmaker Jose Guadalupe Posada. It has become an icon in Mexican culture, and Day of the Dead celebrations. She was part of a series of Calaveras (skeletons), which were humorous images of contemporary figures depicted as skeletons, usually accompanied by poems.

The word Catrina, is the feminine form of Catrin, which means ‘elegant’. The figure is depicted in a fashionable hat, intending to show that the rich and fashionable, despite their pretensions to importance, are just as susceptible to death as anyone else. Both the Catrina and the Catrin, are represented usually as upper class figures, being a parody of the Mexican upper-class.

Calaca is the colloquial name in Mexico for a skeleton, is a figure of a skull or skeleton commonly used in decoration for the Day of the Dead. They are usually shown with marigold flowers, and have it’s origin in Aztec imagery.

As with other aspects of the Day of the Dead, they are generally depicted as joyous rather than mournful figures. They are often showing festive clothing, dancing or playing instruments, to indicate a happy afterlife. This draws on the Mexican belief that no dead soul likes to be thought of sadly, and that death should be a joyous occasion. This goes back to Aztec beliefs.

Calacas come in a variety of forms, clay, paper, carton, wood, masks, sweets, etc.


2016 - Events for the Day of the Dead in Vienna


24 October - The day of the dead in Mexico / the death in Vienna – ¿A celebration of Life? (Instituto Cervantes). More info under Instituto Cervantes

25 October - Opening of the Altar for the Dead 2016 and inauguration of the exhibition „De Catrinas y Catrines“ (Instituto Cervantes). More info under Instituto Cervantes

28 October - 6ta. Edición de la Fiesta del Día de Muertos Austria (in Palais Eschenbach). More info under Palais Eschenbach

29 October - El día de los muertos Event (in Kursalon). More info under Kursalon

1 November - Día de los muertos Event (in WUK). More info under Gitty Rattay


More info about the Day of the Dead. Cultura Latina

More info about the Day of the Dead. Wiener Zeitung

More info about the Day of the Dead. Das Mexikanische Totenfest


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