Plus top tips on how to celebrate in style in Mexico City and LA
Get your skulls out and prepare for the scariest night of the year… Or is it?
“It’s a popular misconception that Día De Los Muertos is about death and scaring each other off, but that couldn’t be further from the truth,” Monica of La Cosita Chula tells us. Listed by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, Día De Los Muertos is actually about remembering the departed with joy, sharing memories of our loved ones, and celebrating life itself.
In Mexico, family is everything and Día De Los Muertos is a special occasion for families to gather and remember their memories of the departed. “I always remember my grandfather,” Monica continues “who taught me to ride a bike and used to sneak sweets for me behind my parents’ back!”
One way the dead are celebrated is by building "ofrendas", altars decorated with the departed’s favorite food, or objects that remind us of them. Ofrendas are about taking time off our busy lives to pause and celebrate the very fact of being alive, remembering those who have gone. “People might not go to the cemetery the whole year, but they will put time, energy, and creativity into building the best ofrenda for their loved ones every year.”
A multi-generational brand with family at its core, La Cosita Chula works to transmit the Mexican identity and culture, to allow us to identify with it even if we are not from Mexico. “For that reason,” Monica explains, “we wanted to interpret Día de Muertos with a fresh approach, making products that would be wonderful to use during the festivities, but also after.”
La Cosita Chula’s Mezcal Calaverita Set is made up of a pair of skull-shaped shot glasses and a molcajete bowl, ideal to enjoy your shots of tequila and mezcal alike and serve the accompanying lemon, lime, or orange slices in the bowl. While the Set of 2 Cantaritos Cups reinterprets the traditional iconography into a pair of beautiful cups to introduce your guests to the vibrant Mexican culture thanks to their vivid design.
As much as the day is not about being scary, in later years a veritable tradition has developed in the figure of Catrina, the skeleton woman who came into existence as a satirical character of illustrator José Guadalupe Posada.
“Posada created the "Calavera Garbancera" in the 1910s, to make fun of those who dressed in the excessive French style but had nothing more than chickpeas on their plate. The character was then popularized and renamed by artist Diego Rivera, in his famous mural Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Central, who painted the full-length skull, renamed it Catrina, and launched an immediate icon,” Lore of Artesano Casa explains.
Enamored with their country’s traditions and bound by a long-term friendship, Lore & Jimena created their brand Artesano Casa to give artisan communities in remote areas a chance to expand into wider markets, thus keeping their ancestral traditions alive. Thanks to Artesano Casa, many craftsmen, and women who were close to abandoning their crafts because of hardships in favor of factory jobs or a move to the city, have instead been able to preserve their identity.
"We wanted to contribute to the continuation of Día de Muertos traditions in our own way,” Lore continues, “so we thought about a way to spruce up Catrina’s figure. With our artisans in Capula, a potter town in Michoacán, we came up with the idea of reimagining this iconic figure into different versions of it.”
The result is a selection of Catrina sculptures inspired by various jobs - chef, waiter, scuba diver, and golfer - molded by hand using the finest clay from Michoacán, and handpainted with natural pigments by master potters who have been passing down their secret techniques and recipes for generations.
From clay to Oaxacan wood carvings, paper-mâché sculptures, and Barro negro pottery, Catrina has transcended artisanal crafts to become one of the most popular dressing up options on Día de Muertos parades the world over.
“Nowadays everyone wants to be Catrina!” LA-based Mexican photographer Gus Mejia laughs. Born in Mexico City and emigrated to the US during his childhood, Gus had lost touch with his roots until he randomly attended a Día de Muertos photoshoot where the model was dressed and made-up like the Calavera Garbancera.
“I had never celebrated as a child, but at that moment I felt the strong pull of my Mexican roots, and ever since I’ve dedicated my creative endeavors to making sure Catrina is recognized and celebrated in the whole world.”
Armed with his camera, lights, and striking locations, Gus has been collaborating with makeup artists and models in the US and Mexico to bring Catrina to the fore, selling prints of his best work and most of all sharing the love for Mexico on his Instagram account.
“When Mexicans in the US who can’t leave because of their immigration status see my pictures of Catrinas in Mexico and recognize the locations or people in them, it’s a unique emotion every time. It’s my way of bringing Mexico to them.”
Now an expert of Catrinas, ofrendas, and everything in between, Gus is preparing for the biggest Día De Los Muertos celebration outside of Mexico, LA’s Hollywood Forever.
An iconic cemetery dating back to the 1800s, Hollywood Forever has turned into a multifunctional events space, where every year Día de Muertos is celebrated with an all-day and night festival on the Saturday before November 2nd.
This year’s event is on October 30th and tickets are selling extra fast. Featuring gigantic ofrendas, art exhibitions, crafts stalls, and cultural performances on three separate stages, the event is dedicated to the mythological figure of the Quetzalcoatl, the plumed serpent, a Mayans and Aztecan symbol of rebirth.
For those of you lucky enough to be at the heart of it all, Mexico City, Monica of La Cosita Chula highly recommends heading to Reforma Avenue, where the Angel de la Independencia monument is decorated every year with hundreds of cempasuchil, or flower of the Dead, a variety of marigolds that are used to welcome the dead with its colorful petals. The avenue is also lined with gigantic artisanal ofrendas celebrating diverse traditions such as the beadwork of the Huichol people or majolica pottery from Talavera, Puebla.
And if you fancy a street party like no other, make sure you head to Zócalo for noon, where the traditional Día de Muertos parade will take place after a year of absence in 2020. Expect garish costumes, an explosion of colors, and marching altars, as well as music bands and performances for the whole length of the parade, which will finish at Campo Marte.
Worry not though - if you can’t get yourself to Mexico on a last-minute flight - feast your eyes on our Día de Muertos Collection instead!