Welcome to Mexico!
By Victoria Schmidt
Dia de los Muertos
My most favorite Mexican Holiday is Dia de los Muertos. Also known as “The Day of the Dead.” Every November 1st, the lives of infants and children who have passed away are celebrated. The following day is the day when the lives of adults who are no longer with us are celebrated.
You see, long ago it was thought that it would be an insult to the dead to remember them in sadness and mourning. (This is not to say the dead are not mourned or there is no sadness in the death of loved ones.) But these specific days are days to celebrate the lives of their departed loved ones, and even mock death itself.
Inside the homes, people decorate an alter to celebrate their dead. Alters are filled with photos, favorite flowers, instruments, jewelry, tequila, cigars, hats…you name it. And the favorite foods of the dead are made and shared.
The cemeteries are filled with similar displays, and a sad dreary cemetery is brought to life by these decorations, and the people who gather to share the lives and the stories of their dead. The air is filled with the smells of the flowers and food and the music for all to enjoy.
There are also parades, and Catrina dolls are everywhere. Many Mexicans will wear vivid colors and have their faces painted in the Catrina style, or they will wear black and have their face painted as a death mask. Skulls decorated by artisans are also prominently displayed. Watch your weekly papers to see where the public parades and alters can be viewed.
J.G. Posada, whose 1913 sketch of the Catrina claimed: “La Catrina has become the referential image of Death in Mexico, it is common to see her embodied as part of the celebrations of Day of the Dead throughout the country; she has become a motive for the creation of handcrafts made from clay or other materials, her representations may vary, as well as the hat.”
It was, however, Diego Rivera’s mural in Mexico City at Alameda Park (later moved to the Museo Mural Diego Rivera) that brought greater prominence to the use of La Catrina. I prefer a layperson’s explanation to me best of all: “La Catrina is a skeleton dressed as a rich woman, that is a way of saying no matter what our station in life we are all equal in death.”
It is that equality that also attracts me to this holiday. Young, old, rich, poor, no matter what we are in life, we are all touched by death, it is part of the continuum of life, and therefore, it makes us finally equal. I strive for living a life that can do the same for all.
Due to a recent move, my items for our personal alter are in storage. While we will still celebrate, it won’t be the same as before. This brings up another truism about life: Constant change. It is refreshing to know, that this Holiday tradition, is one that seldom changes, and it is my hope that at the end of my life, someone will make space on their alter to include me, and celebrate my life. But it must be here in Mexico, where I learned to celebrate life itself.
Column: Editor’s Page
Victoria Schmidt came to Mexico with her husband, in 2007. She is a graduate of Moorhead State University, Minnesota and graduated Cum Laude with a BA degree in Radio, Television and Film. At 23 she was hired at multi-national media corporation, where she worked 10 years as their Director for Operations and Finance. She then ran her own business consulting company. She has won multiple community service awards. Writing has been a passion of Victoria’s since Junior High. She has been active in the writing and publishing business for over 40 years and has been a columnist for the Ojo del Lago since 2008.