Last updated: October 2022
You may have heard of Mexico’s iconic Catrina, the famed figurehead now synonymous with Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead). But did you know she originally had nothing to do with Día de Muertos? Here, 9 facts you most likely don’t know about La Catrina: Mexico’s grand dame of death.
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1) La Catrina originally had nothing to do with Día de Muertos. She began as a zinc etching circa 1910 by Mexican printmaker & illustrator José Guadalupe Posada, as a satirical portrait of Mexican aristocracy.
2) Her appearance coincided with the start of the Mexican Revolution, a time when classes were highly segmented. The rich enjoyed countless benefits while the poor were barely visible, with no class in between.
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3) La Catrina was originally called “Calavera Garbancera.” “Garbancera” was the nickname given to indigenous Mexicans who denied their cultural heritage, and instead aspired to adopt high-society European culture.
4) “Catrina” is the feminine form of the word “catrin,” which means “dandy” – signifying a rich, society person.
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5) The original “La Calavera Catrina” was essentially a headshot. She was sketched only from the shoulders up, portraying a skeleton adorned with nothing but a fancy, oversized, French-style hat.
6) By sketching this high-society “calavera” (skull) Posada wanted to portray that no matter what we have in life, we are all equal in the end.
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7) It wasn’t until decades later that La Catrina appeared with an entire body (and fancy dress), when Diego Rivera painted her in a 1947 mural. He painted her in the center of the mural, with a young version of himself on the left and Posada, La Catrina’s creator, on the right.
8) Catrinas are often seen adorned with or holding a bouquet of bright orange cempasúchil (marigold), the beautiful, aromatic and traditional flower used by Mexican families to guide souls of loved ones to their ofrendas (offerings, or altars) on Día de Muertos.
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9) Now, La Catrina is the most recognizable image of Día de Muertos. She has come to symbolize Mexico’s willingness to laugh at death, as a reminder that we all leave this world as equals.
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