I promised my good friend Erin that I’d write an email to her fourth-grade class regarding the Day of the Dead festivities here in Puerto Vallarta. My email is as follows:
Hello fourth graders and greetings from Mexico!
Here in Puerto Vallarta, la Día de los Muertos celebration (or the Day of the Dead) lasts from October 28th clear until November 2nd. During this time, many local families gather to remember and pray for their loved ones who have passed. They build altars in their homes and in special locations around the city in honor of those who have died.
They also visit the cemetery and decorate the graves of their loved ones. While death can often be a sad and even frightening thing, the Day of the Dead focuses more on the celebration of these people’s lives. When my husband and I visited the local cemetery in Puerto Vallarta, we found it full of color and teaming with life. It wasn’t a sad occasion at all. On the contrary, there was live music and good food. People were smiling and greeting one another. Children were running around the old stones and people were gathered around the graves of their families and friends now decorated and vibrant with color.
We followed a lively parade all the way back into town. It finally stopped near the middle of the city where a stage had been erected. We were able to watch from our balcony as people from all over Mexico came and showed off their different styles of dance. Horses pranced in perfect lines and children much like yourselves danced and sang. The only difference between them and you was that their faces were all painted white to look like skulls.
Skulls have a very important significance in Mexican culture but they all center around one specific figure. They call her “Catrina.” La Calavera Catrina (or the Elegant Skull) was first created by artist Jose Guadalupe Posada sometime between 1910 and 1913. His artwork depicted a female skeleton wearing the hat of a wealthy aristocrat.
The figure of “Catrina” was made famous by another artists years later named Diego Rivera who has since become a world-renowned Mexican artist. To this day, people decorate everything with “Catrinas.” You can find them displayed in shop windows, printed on fabric and clothing, and blowing in the breeze as decorations. And people paint their faces. Here is a picture of me with my husband Ryan and our friend Eric with our faces painted.
To summarize, my experience of the Day of the Dead while in Mexico is this. The holiday is not about death at all. It is about life and celebration and serves as a reminder to us that life should be celebrated. It was a lot of fun.