The Catrinas: Mexican Traditions and the Meaning Behind Them

The Catrinas, also known as Catrinas de Muerte, or Day of the Dead figures, are clay skeletons that represent the loss of family and friends during the year. The tradition surrounding them dates back to Aztec times when the dead would visit their loved ones on this day to eat and drink with them. In modern times they have become an iconic figure in the Mexican culture and most popular during November 1-2 but can be seen throughout the month of October as families remember loved ones who have passed away over the previous year.


What is the meaning of Catrinas?

Catrinas are an important part of Day of the Dead in Mexico, but they are also used as a way to remember those who have passed away. Catrina figures originated from French artist Lesley Toussaint’s illustrations for a New York Times story about Día de los Muertos. The original drawing consisted of a skull dressed up with fancy clothing and makeup, which is known as calavera. In many ways, this figure can be seen as a sign of rebellion or protest against death by portraying it in such a glamorous light. It is said that people would often dress up their loved ones’ graves on Día de los Muertos with these types of decorations.




What does La Calavera Catrina represent?

La Calavera Catrina is typically known for representing death in a comedic fashion. The skeleton has a sombrero, a skirt, and stockings with a flower between her teeth. She first appeared on the cover of the November 5th, 1910 edition of La Ilustración de México during José Guadalupe Posada’s lifetime. This publication was for Mexico’s Independence Day which takes place on September 16th.

Posada created La Calavera Catrina as an ironic depiction of rich Mexicans who continued to party even though they knew they were going to die at some point in their lives.


What are Catrinas made of?

Catrinas are made of paper mache, papier-mâché, or plaster. They can be painted with any color of paint. The first step to creating a catrina is to create a base layer that will serve as the foundation for this work of art. This can be done with pieces of wood that are then covered in a material such as foam rubber or aluminum foil.

If you want to make your own catrina, you will need these materials: A cardboard box (approximately 8 inches tall) Paper mache Black paint Brown paint Pink face powder White chalk Black marker Construction paper Scissors Glue Pencil Ruler Clear glue Knife.

First, take the cardboard box and cut two slits about 2 inches apart on each side. Next, cut off one of the bottom flaps so it doesn’t interfere with construction. Cut two more slits on opposite sides at the top of the box – one near each end. Now you should have a semi-circle opening on both sides. Fit one long edge inside another long edge so they meet up at an angle forming a triangle shape inside one end of the rectangle that remains from cutting off the bottom flap from earlier.




Where do Catrinas come from?

Traditionally, Catrinas are put on the gravesites of loved ones to celebrate their lives. The paper figures represent both sadness for lost life and happiness for those who are with God. They also represent the family’s willingness to celebrate life in honor of their loved one’s death.

Catrina is a Spanish word that translates as little corpse. It derives from the Italian word Caterina, which means little girl. The idea of using paper figures to decorate gravesites may have come from Italy, but it has become an integral part of Mexican culture.

In fact, catrina imagery can be found in many facets of Mexico’s cultural identity.




What artist created La Catrina?

In 1884, Jose Guadalupe Posada produced a print of a Calavera Catrina wearing European-style finery. La Catrina is often misinterpreted to be a representation of death, but in reality, it is representative of social class. La Calavera (skull) is representative of peasantry, while the Calavera Catrina (fancy skull) represents those who have risen to prominence after death. Posada was a satirical illustrator who wanted to remind people that there were always people who were better off than them, even after death.

La Catrina has been adopted by many as an icon for celebrating life during this time of year.


Where to see a Catrinas parade?

There are some cities in Mexico that have catrina parades or festivals, but they are few and far between. The most well-known is the Día de los Muertos procession in Pátzcuaro, Michoacán. The parade usually starts at about 10am on November 1st to commemorate those who have died during the previous year. It’s a very solemn event with many participants in full indigenous dress wearing black masks of their ancestors. There is also a procession for children who have died before their first birthday called Niños’ Day of the Dead which takes place on November 2nd at midday.





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