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La Catrina: An international symbol for the Day of the Dead

Mexico's lady of death, La Catrina, is José Guadalupe Posada's most famous character. It is a reminder to enjoy life and embrace mortality.

COLORADO, USA — We are just days away from Halloween, and while some are preparing with costumes and pumpkin-shaped buckets to go trick-or-treating on Oct. 31, others are preparing altars, candles and skulls to celebrate Day of the Dead, which takes place Nov. 1 to Nov. 2.

Contrary to what some may think, Dia de los Muertos, known in English as Day of the Dead, is not the Mexican Halloween. It is a Mexican holiday celebrated by people from Latin American countries and the United States to honor their ancestors.

La Catrina is an internationally recognized symbol for the Day of the Dead. Many relate it to the illustrations of José Guadalupe Posada, who modernized her in 1910, but her existence goes much further back. 

According to National Geographic, La Catrina is the Aztec figure Mictecacihuatl, the death goddess of Chicunamictlan. Her role was to watch over the bones of the dead. 

During pre-revolutionary Mexico, Posada used La Catrina as a way to criticize upper-class society and specifically described women in high society.

His figures were depicted with skulls instead of faces because "the reduction of every person to bones, no matter of time, place, class or deed gave Posada's images a homogenising quality, the apparent message being ‘underneath, we are all the same,’" according to National Geographic.  

Today, La Catrina is integrated as an emblem of the Day of the Dead celebration in different ways. According to National Geographic, her elegant dress represents celebration, and her smile reminds us that there is comfort in accepting the inevitability of death and that the dead should be commemorated. 

The iconic Catrina has served as an influence for notable Mexican artists such as Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco. It can be found in the center of Rivera's mural Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Park, next to Posada.

Dia de los Muertos has also made a more recent impact in popular culture. It served as inspiration for the holiday in Disney's animated film "Coco," and gained a younger fanbase while educating viewers about the holiday's importance in Mexico.

The film follows the journey of a young boy who travels to the Land of the Dead and meets his ancestors, who teach him about the holiday's significance.

Where to celebrate Dia de los Muertos

This year in Colorado, there's an array of events and businesses holding their Dia de los Muertos celebrations. One event in particular, the 4 day Dia de los Muertos Festival, has held the largest altar in Denver and surely won't disappoint this year.

Día de los Muertos Celebration at Denver Botanic Gardens on Saturday, Nov. 6, from 9 a.m to 4 p.m.

Annual Dia De Muertos Celebration at Enigma Bazaar on Saturday, Oct. 30 and Sunday, Oct. 31 from 8 p.m to 12 a.m.

4 day Dia de los Muertos Festival at Village Exchange Center from Oct. 30 to Nov. 2. Hours vary by day.

Sugar skull face painting (Dia de los Muertos) at pARTiculars Art Gallery and Teaching Studio on Oct. 22 from 6 p.m to 9 p.m. 

Sugar Skull Painting, Sipping & Tacos at Refresh Studios on Oct. 23 at 2 p.m. 

RELATED: Dia de los Muertos is not Mexican Halloween. Here's its actual significance

RELATED: Gigantic skeletons come out of street in Mexico City for Día de los Muertos

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