Day of the Dead is one of the most important and beautiful celebrations in Mexico. Unlike what many people might think, it is not about sadness or grief, but more like a celebration of life. People usually prepare offerings for their loved ones who have departed, and these often include the food and drinks the dead enjoyed. One popular belief, as you have seen in the film Coco, is that the dead return on November 2nd to be with their friends and family. It is not like a scary movie or anything like that, but a beautiful tradition to bring us closer to those who are not with us anymore.
If you love this tradition and want to celebrate it every day, here are some of the most iconic motifs related to Day of the Dead that might inspire your next tattoo.
The Catrina was designed by Mexican artist José Guadalupe Posada at the end of the 19th century. It was a critique of European influence in Mexico, so the skeleton is wearing a feathered hat. Posada just drew the face of the character, and it was muralist Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo’s husband, the one who gave a full body to the Catrina in the mural “Dream Of A Sunday Afternoon At the Alameda Central.”
Modern references to the good old Catrina feature female characters with skeleton faces, sometimes wearing make up as if they were sugar skulls.
Skulls made of sugar are very popular during the Day of the Dead. They are also part of the offerings and sold in Mexican markets and bakeries, with popular names pasted on their foreheads and lots of colors all over the face. It is very common for friends to give sugar skulls to each other as gifts. Why would someone want a skull with their name on it? Well, it is a humorous reminder that someday we will die anyway and that our only purpose in life is to enjoy it and find all the sweetness it has.
The word Tzompantli might be difficult to pronounce, we know. It comes from Nahuatl (an ancient language in Mexico) and it describes a wall where human skulls were placed after their owners were sacrificed in rituals. There are many ancient tzompantli around Mexico, and, instead of being something macabre, they are a symbol of the relationship Mexicans have with death.
Another symbol that represents death is the Aztec god Mictlantecuhtli, a word that also comes from Nahuatl and means the “Lord of the Dead.” Mictlan was the place of the dead, the underworld in some ancient cultures in Mexico, like the Mexica, Zapoteca and Mixteca.
Whenever Day of the Dead is near, the smell of marigolds invades the markets and cemeteries. This orange flower known in Mexico as “cempasúchil” or flower of dead, was used by the Aztecs to guide the dead on their return to the real world from the afterlife. They started including marigolds in the graves and offerings, something that we still do.
Don’t miss these:
José Guadalupe Posada: The Macabre Artist Who Made His Country Fall In Love With Death
What Does A Massive Wall Of Human Skulls Tell Us About The Aztec’s Views On Death?