How Mexico combines Halloween and Day of the Dead into one surreal celebration

That Mexicans can find humor in death seems clear from the enduring popularity of La Catrina. (Getty)
That Mexicans can find humor in death seems clear from the enduring popularity of La Catrina. (Getty)

By Patrick J. McDonnell / Los Angeles Times

Mexico’s beloved grande dame of death, a stylishly attired skeleton named La Catrina, her grinning skull topped with trademark hat, has company in the market stands here: Hollywood extraterrestrials, Batman and other superheroes, along with sundry witches and monsters.

In Mexico, customs originating in Europe and the indigenous world often meld in a surprisingly seamless fashion.

So it is with Halloween, a tradition born in Europe and transported  from the United States, and Day of the Dead, a Mexican remembrance of the deceased with pre-Hispanic origins.

The two holidays — Halloween on Oct.  31 and Day of the Dead two days later — have fused here into a multi-day, sometimes surreal celebration and a bonanza for pinata and mask makers, costume fabricators and bakers specializing in sugary offerings for the departed. At the sprawling Sonora Market here, the final shopping days are frantic.

On Saturday, Mexico City held its first Day of the Dead parade, a runaway success that saw the route through downtown jammed with more 250,000 people, many in full Halloween mode, decked out in skeleton regalia, their faces painted like skulls.

Across all social strata, many Mexicans dress up for Halloween, also known as Noche de Brujas, or Night of the Witches, then prepare altars known as ofrendas for deceased ancestors and loved ones.

“My mother liked to put up very big ofrendas with a lot of decoration,” says Alejandro Diaz Fernandez, 46, a school bus driver who has arrived at Sonora Market’s “auditorium,” a room the size of an airplane hangar, to load up on chocolate skulls, incense and marigolds. The orange flowers, known as cempasuchil, are ubiquitous in the run-up to Day of the Dead.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *