Día de los Muertos and Mexican Beauty Traditions

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Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is not a Mexican version of Halloween. The Mexican Day of the Dead is a colorful joyful celebration of life and death. In towns and cities throughout Mexico, revelers wear colorful makeup and costumes, hold parades and parties, sing and dance, and make offerings to lost loved ones. While the holiday originated in Mexico, it is celebrated all over Latin America with colorful calaveras (skulls) and calacas (skeletons).

In 2008, UNESCO recognized the importance of Día de los Muertos by adding the holiday to its list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Today Mexicans from all religious and ethnic backgrounds celebrate Día de los Muertos, but at its core, the holiday is a reaffirmation of indigenous life. The Day of the Dead originated ~3000 years ago with the Aztec, Toltec, and other Nahua people, who considered mourning the dead disrespectful. The Aztecs celebrated for a full month! The Aztecs honored the spirits of the dead, specifically those of warriors and women who died in childbirth, by holding great feasts. Fast-forward another 2,500 years to when the Spanish arrived to colonize modern day Mexico. As you could imagine the Catholic Spaniards did not understand the concept of celebrating the dead and tried to eradicate the tradition. When the Conquistadors could not put a stop to the month-long August ritual, they moved it to coincide with All Saints Days and All Souls Day, celebrated on November 1 and 2 respectively. Today’s Día de los Muertos celebration is a mash-up of pre-Hispanic religious rites and Christian feasts.

The centerpiece of the celebration is an altar, or ofrenda, built in private homes and cemeteries meant to welcome spirits back to the realm of the living. Every ofrenda also includes the four elements: water, wind, earth and fire. Marigolds are the main flowers used to decorate the altar. Monarch butterflies play a role in Día de los Muertos because they are believed to hold the spirits of the departed. This belief stems from the fact that the first monarchs arrive in Mexico for the winter each fall on Nov. 1, which coincides with Día de los Muertos. Calavera means “skull.” But during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, calavera was used to describe short, humorous poems, which were often sarcastic tombstone epitaphs published in newspapers that poked fun at the living. In the early 20th century, Mexican political cartoonist and lithographer José Guadalupe Posada created an etching to accompany a literary calavera. Posada dressed his personification of death in fancy French garb and called it Calavera Garbancera, intending it as social commentary on Mexican society’s emulation of European sophistication. “Todos somos calaveras,” a quote commonly attributed to Posada, means “we are all skeletons.” Underneath all our manmade trappings, we are all the same. Today, the calavera Catrina, or elegant skull, is the Day of the Dead’s most ubiquitous symbol.

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Over 500 woman gathered in Mexico City on November 1, 2014, to set a Guinness World Record for the largest gathering of women dressed as Catrina. Catrina is a symbol of the beauty and strength of women. The face painting is only part of a skincare ritual that begins before and ends after the Day of the Dead festivities. Normally Mexican women avoid using heavy and cakey makeup. They believe that heavy makeup spoils the health of the skin making it dull and loose. The Day of the Dead celebration would be the one exception. As such, Mexican women focus on skincare before and after to ensure the health of their skin.

Use the following skincare routine to ensure the health of your skin under your Catrina makeup:

1.       Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! Your skin can easily dry out under layers of makeup; especially when worn for 2 days! A favorite amongst Mexican women is rose water toner made from fresh roses, prepared over a week in advance, and used daily morning and night. Make sure you are drinking plenty of water to hydrate your skin from within.

2.       Moisturize. Did you know that agave can moisturize and reduce fine lines; particularly under your eyes? Follow your hydrating toner with a good dose of moisturizer and primer. You want there to be a barrier between your skin and the Catrina makeup.

3.       Declog your pores. Using water-based theatrical makeup to create your Catrina look will save you from clogged pores, acne, and other forms of skin inflammation. However, it is good to give your pores some extra care after removing your make-up. Mexican women swear by cactus juice’s healing, cooling and detoxifying effects. It will also freshen’ you up, awakens your senses and unclogs the pores.

4.       Exfoliate! Exfoliation is very important according to Mexicans. You will always find a jar of sea salt and/or brown/white sugar in a Mexican woman’s bathroom. Brown sugar contains glycolic acid, which fights bacteria. Glycolic acid is an alpha-hydroxyl acid, which is important in keeping your skin vivacious and healthy. Brown sugar gives you younger and fresher looking skin by breaking down glue-bonded skin cells which supports cell turnover.

5.       Repair. One of the biggest beauty secrets in Mexico is Tepezcohuite tree extract. Mexicans discovered that it helps with wrinkles, eczema, scars, acne, psoriasis and stretch marks, because it regenerates skin. Salma Hayek’s brand Nuance just so happens to be the only brand in the U.S.A. that uses Tepezcohuite.