Uncovering the Meaning Behind the Catrina: What Does a Catrina Symbolize?

The Catrina figure has become a worldwide symbol of Dia de los Muertos or the Day of the Dead, a Mexican holiday celebrated every year on November 1 and 2. Those who aren’t familiar with this holiday may wonder what this elegant, skull-faced woman represents. The Catrina is a colorful and distinctive representation of death, which may seem macabre at first glance. However, this longtime symbol of Mexican folklore has become an emblem of life, celebration, and remembrance.

The Catrina figures highlight the beauty of life even through the passing of our loved ones. Each Catrina is dressed in a different outfit, often portraying a luxurious lifestyle. These figures can represent a glamorous depiction of the afterlife, making it less frightening for those who wish to celebrate Dia de los Muertos. The Catrina is a powerful symbol of the never-ending relationship between the living and the dead, as it brings together both worlds in a joyous celebration of life and death.

Mexican artist Jose Guadalupe Posada first popularized the Catrina figure in the early 1900s as a political satire of wealthy Mexicans who adopted European fashions. However, Diego Rivera, a prolific painter from Mexico, then repurposed the Catrina as a symbol of death and wealth. Since then, the Catrina has become an essential part of Mexican culture and is synonymous with Dia de los Muertos celebrations. Despite its origins, the symbol of the Catrina has undergone a significant transformation from its humble beginnings to becoming an emblematic figure of beauty, hope, and remembrance.

The History of La Catrina

La Catrina, also known as the elegant skeleton lady, is a popular symbol in Mexican culture. The origins of La Catrina dates back to the early 19th century, during the reign of Porfirio Díaz, a Mexican President who had a great interest in French culture. The ruling class of Mexico adopted many of the European traditions and customs during this period, including the Day of the Dead celebrations.

The creator of La Catrina is attributed to famous Mexican printmaker and illustrator José Guadalupe Posada. Posada was known for his satirical representations of the Mexican bourgeoisie and his illustrations depicting skeletal figures. La Catrina is believed to have been inspired by Posada’s earlier illustrations of the Calavera Catrina, a female skeleton dressed to the nines in elegant French clothing, adorned with a feathered hat.

Over time, La Catrina became a symbol used to represent the Mexican Day of the Dead, a holiday that honors and celebrates deceased loved ones. La Catrina embodies the idea of death as a universal and democratic experience, where regardless of social status, everyone is equal in death.

What does La Catrina Symbolize?

  • Death as an inevitable part of life
  • The Mexican belief in the cycle of life and death
  • Celebration and remembrance of deceased loved ones
  • The idea that death does not discriminate based on social status

La Catrina in Modern Culture

Today, La Catrina is not only a symbol of the Day of the Dead, but it has also become a popular icon in Mexican pop culture. It can be seen in art, fashion, music, and entertainment. Many Mexicans, particularly women, often dress up as La Catrina during the Day of the Dead celebrations.

In recent years, La Catrina has also become a symbol of resistance in Mexico, particularly against issues such as femicide, political corruption, and social injustice. Activists often use La Catrina to send a powerful message and make a statement.

The Meaning Behind La Catrina’s Attire

La Catrina’s attire represents the European fashions adopted by the Mexican ruling class during the Porfiriato era, and how death ultimately strips away the illusion of social status. Her elegant dress, feathered hat, and ornate jewelry are a reminder of the fleeting nature of material possessions. The skull face of La Catrina represents the idea that death comes for everyone, regardless of appearance or wealth.

Elegant dressFleeting nature of material possessions
Feathered hatMexico’s indigenous and European cultural mix
Ornate jewelryWealth and social status
Skeletal faceDeath as a universal experience

Overall, La Catrina is a powerful symbol that invokes a sense of celebration, remembrance, and equality in death.

The significance of La Catrina in Mexican culture

La Catrina is one of the most recognizable figures in Mexican culture. This elegantly dressed skeletal figure, with its wide-brimmed hat, has come to symbolize not only the Mexican holiday Dia de los Muertos, but also the Mexican people’s unique view of death and the afterlife.

  • Death as a celebration: In Mexico, death is not viewed as a tragedy or an end, but as a natural part of life’s cycle. La Catrina is a reminder to celebrate death, to remember loved ones who have passed, and to honor their legacy through lively festivals and colorful traditions.
  • Social commentary: La Catrina was originally created by Mexican artist Jose Guadalupe Posada as a satirical comment on Mexican society’s fascination with European aristocracy and disregard for its own indigenous heritage. Today, La Catrina is still used as a symbol of the importance of recognizing and honoring Mexico’s cultural roots.
  • Representation of underworld: In Aztec mythology, Mictlantecuhtli was the god of the underworld, and La Catrina is often seen as a modern-day representation of this deity. As such, the image of La Catrina is often incorporated into ancient Aztec rituals and ceremonies.

Overall, La Catrina is a powerful symbol of Mexican culture and identity. She represents both life and death, tradition and modernity, and serves as a reminder of the importance of honoring the past while looking towards the future.

Origins of La Catrina

Jose Guadalupe Posada, a Mexican artist, created the first known image of La Catrina in 1910. Posada’s original image portrayed a slender, elegantly dressed skeleton wearing a sophisticated hat.

Today, La Catrina has become a ubiquitous figure in Mexican culture, appearing on everything from clothing and jewelry to Day of the Dead altars and parades. The skeletal figure’s popularity has spread beyond Mexico, with many people around the world adopting La Catrina as an icon of their own culture.

La Catrina in popular culture

La Catrina has made numerous appearances in popular culture, from movies and television shows to music and fashion. One of the most notable examples of La Catrina’s influence is in the James Bond film “Spectre,” where the iconic figure is featured prominently in a breathtaking opening sequence set during the Day of the Dead festivities in Mexico City.

Movie/TV showDescription
The Book of LifeThis animated film features the character of La Muerte, who is based on La Catrina, as a pivotal figure in the story’s plot.
CocoThis Pixar film explores the Mexican tradition of Dia de los Muertos, and includes a version of La Catrina in its storyline.
Narcos: MexicoLa Catrina is referenced in this Netflix series, which explores the rise of the illegal drug trade in Mexico during the 1980s.

La Catrina has also had a significant impact on the fashion industry, with designers all over the world incorporating her iconic image into their designs. From runway shows to streetwear, La Catrina’s influence can be seen everywhere, and her popularity shows no signs of slowing down.

The Origins of the Name “Catrina”

During the pre-Hispanic era in Mexico, death was considered a natural part of life and was celebrated through annual rituals. The Aztecs held the belief that death was not the end but only a continuation of life in a different form. After the Spanish conquest of Mexico in the 16th century, Catholicism became the dominant religion. The Catholic Church viewed death negatively and aimed to suppress the indigenous death rituals. However, the indigenous beliefs and traditions were so deeply ingrained in the Mexican people that they blended with the Catholicism and gave birth to a unique and vibrant cultural celebration known as Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead.

The Symbolism of Catrina

  • Catrina is a skeletal female figure dressed in a fancy hat, long dress and gloves.
  • The image of Catrina originated from a 1910-1913 zinc etching by Mexican printmaker and illustrator, Jose Guadalupe Posada.
  • Posada’s Catrina represented the upper-class Mexican women who were adopting European fashions and rejecting their indigenous heritage.

The Three-Day Celebration of Dia de los Muertos

Dia de los Muertos is celebrated on November 1st and 2nd, coinciding with the Catholic holidays of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day.

  • November 1st, Dia de los Inocentes or Day of the Innocents, is dedicated to the children and babies who have passed away.
  • November 2nd, Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead, is dedicated to adults who have passed away.
  • It is believed that on these two days the spirits of the dead return to the earth to be with their loved ones.

The Altar of Dia de los Muertos

The altar or ofrenda is an essential component of Dia de los Muertos celebrations. The altar symbolizes the connection between the living and the dead. It is typically decorated with bright colors, flowers, candles, and pictures of the deceased. In addition, the altar usually features traditional offerings such as:

Pan de Muerto (Bread of the Dead)Represents the circle of life and death
Calaveritas de Azucar (Sugar Skulls)Represents death and the sweetness of life
Cempasuchil (Marigold Flowers)Used to lead the dead to the altar with their vibrant color and scent
CandlesRepresent the four elements and guide the spirits home

The Symbolism of Death in Mexican Culture

The concept of death in Mexican culture is far from being scary or morbid. Instead, it is a celebration of life that depicts the idea of continuing the relationship between the living and their deceased loved ones. The iconic symbol that represents this concept is the Catrina, a female skeleton dressed in elegant clothing and accessories.

The Significance of the Number Four

  • Four cardinal points: The Aztecs believed that the universe was divided into four directions, North, South, East, and West. These directions also represented the stages of life, from birth to death.
  • The four elements: Fire, Water, Air, and Earth, represent the balance of nature and the connection between life and death. They also represent the four phases of human life; childhood, youth, adulthood, and old age.
  • The four seasons: In Mexican mythology, each season represents a different stage of life. Spring symbolizes birth and youth, summer represents adolescence and growth, autumn symbolizes maturity and harvest, and winter represents old age and death.

The number four is of significant importance in Mexican culture, and it is closely associated with the symbolism of death. It is believed that, with the death of a person, they pass through four stages in the afterlife: physical death, the journey through Mictlan, the underworld, spiritual death, and resurrection. This journey is also known as the Fourfold Path, and it is depicted in various artworks and traditions, including the Day of the Dead celebration.


The Mexican culture is rich in symbolism and mythology that depicts the idea of death as a natural part of life and a continuation of relationships beyond the physical world. The significance of the number four in Mexican culture and its association with death helps to spread this beautiful concept of life and death, which is celebrated every year in the Day of the Dead celebration.

How La Catrina is Related to the Day of the Dead

La Catrina is a character that has become an icon of the Day of the Dead celebration in Mexico. It represents an elegant skeleton lady wearing a fancy hat. However, the meaning behind this symbol goes beyond its appearance.

In this article, we will explore what La Catrina signifies and why it is such an important element of the Day of the Dead ritual.

What Does La Catrina Symbolize?

  • Death: The most obvious symbolism behind La Catrina is death. In Mexico, death is not a taboo subject but an integral part of life. Mexicans celebrate the Day of the Dead to remember their loved ones who have passed away. La Catrina represents the cycle of life and death.
  • Equality: Another symbolism behind La Catrina is equality. In the early 1900s, Mexican illustrator José Guadalupe Posada created the first image of La Catrina as a satire of Mexico’s upper class. The image portrayed a skeleton lady dressed in elegant clothes. The symbolism behind this image was to remind people that, in the face of death, all humans are equal.
  • Celebration: La Catrina is not just associated with death but also with celebration. In Mexico, the Day of the Dead is a time to honor the deceased, but it is also a time to celebrate life. La Catrina’s appearance is flamboyant and joyful, representing the festive atmosphere of the Day of the Dead.

La Catrina and Altars

One of the most important elements of the Day of the Dead celebration is the altar, or ofrenda, where families place their deceased loved ones’ pictures, favorite food, and drinks. La Catrina can also be part of the altar decoration. Families can place a picture or statue of La Catrina to symbolize the cycle of life and death and the celebration of the deceased’s life.

La Catrina in Popular Culture

La Catrina’s popularity goes beyond the Day of the Dead celebration. In Mexico and other parts of the world, she has become a popular cultural symbol, representing Mexican folk art and culture.

Examples of La Catrina in Popular CultureDescription
La Catrina on TVLa Catrina has appeared in TV shows, such as “Breaking Bad,” and “American Horror Story: Coven.”
La Catrina in ArtLa Catrina has inspired many Mexican artists, such as Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, who have used her image in their art.
La Catrina in FashionLa Catrina’s image has also become popular in fashion. Many designers have used her image in clothing and accessories.

La Catrina’s popularity shows how this symbol goes beyond the Day of the Dead celebration and has become an essential element of Mexican culture that is recognized worldwide.

Traditional costumes and makeup for La Catrina

La Catrina is one of the most recognizable and iconic pieces of Mexican folklore. She personifies death and is often seen adorned in a magnificent outfit and a striking composition of makeup. The following are the traditional costumes and makeup for La Catrina:

  • The Dress: Typically, a La Catrina ensemble is comprised of an extravagant, full-length dress. The dress is more often black but can come in other colors such as white or purple. The dress is ornate with intricate lacework or embroidery, which adds a touch of femininity and elegance to the outfit.
  • The Hat: The hat worn by La Catrina is big and elaborate, most commonly seen in the style of a broad-brimmed hat decorated with flowers, feathers, or other adornments.
  • The Accessories: A La Catrina outfit is incomplete without accessories, which are meant to be in synchrony with the rest of the outfit. These accessories encompass a wide array of items, including necklaces, earrings, bracelets, and other types of jewelry. In addition, gloves, fans, and other accessories should complement the outfit color scheme.

Makeup is an integral part of the La Catrina costume. The goal is to create a skull-like appearance with intricate details and vivid colors. The makeup should be applied evenly and take up the face and neck.

The following are the essential elements of La Catrina makeup:

  • The Base: The base is a stark white foundation that is applied to cover the entire face and neck. This is meant to be the starting point for the La Catrina makeup look.
  • The Eye Sockets: The eye sockets are usually blackened out, leaving enough space around the eyes to allow for easy vision. The eye socket makeup should extend from the eyebrow down to the cheekbones.
  • The Nose: The nose is another crucial aspect of the La Catrina look. Often, people create a skull-like nose by drawing one long line down the center of the nose and two diagonal lines on either side to create nostril holes.
  • The Mouth: The mouth is another critical aspect of the La Catrina makeup. The mouth should be painted over the lips and be extended to the cheeks. It should also be designed in a way that reflects a skull-like image with white teeth, a black outline, and a floral print inside.

La Catrina is a unique and striking combination of mythical legend and fashionable attire. The traditional costumes and makeup for this iconic folklore add to the Mexican heritage and encourage people to respect the customs and traditions of Mexico.

Traditional Colors:Meaning:
BlackDeath and mourning
WhitePurity and hope
PurpleDignity, wisdom, and valor

It’s important to note that the color choice is a crucial aspect of the La Catrina ensemble. In some cases, even shades of gold or silver can be added to accentuate the outfit’s elegance and glamour. However, Black is the primary color of choice and is often considered a symbol of death and mourning.

The Role of La Catrina in Modern Mexican Art

La Catrina is considered a cultural icon in Mexico, representing the country’s rich history and traditions. She has played an integral role in modern Mexican art, with artists using her image to pay tribute to Mexican culture in various mediums, including paintings, sculptures, and street art. Here, we’ll take a closer look at the role of La Catrina in modern Mexican art.

The Symbolism Behind La Catrina

  • La Catrina is often seen wearing a hat adorned with feathers and flowers, which represents the Aztec goddess of death, Mictecacihuatl.
  • Her skeletal appearance symbolizes the Mexican belief in death as a natural part of life, and the acceptance and celebration of death during the Day of the Dead.
  • The use of vibrant colors in La Catrina’s attire reflects the bright and lively culture of Mexico.
  • La Catrina is often depicted in a position of power, which represents the Mexican people’s willingness to confront and mock death.

The Influence of La Catrina in Mexican Art

La Catrina has had a significant impact on modern Mexican art, inspiring artists to create pieces that celebrate the country’s rich cultural heritage. Some of the most famous Mexican artists, including Diego Rivera and Jose Guadalupe Posada, have used La Catrina’s image in their works, emphasizing the importance of death in Mexican culture. The Day of the Dead, which involves the creation of altars and offerings to honor the departed, has also inspired many Mexican artists to pay tribute to their heritage in their work.

La Catrina in Street Art

La Catrina has been a popular subject of Mexican street art. From colorful murals to stenciled images, her distinctive appearance has made her a recognizable symbol of Mexican culture. Many street artists use her image to draw attention to social and political issues in the country, reminding viewers of the importance of celebrating their cultural heritage and traditions.

La Catrina in Commercial Art

La Catrina’s image has also been used in commercial art, appearing on everything from t-shirts and coffee mugs to jewelry and home decor. While some critics argue that commercialization has watered down the cultural significance of La Catrina, others believe that her widespread use has helped to spread awareness of Mexican traditions and culture around the world.

T-shirtA black t-shirt with a colorful La Catrina graphic on the front.
Coffee mugA white coffee mug with a vibrant La Catrina design.
NecklaceA silver necklace depicting a detailed La Catrina design.

Overall, La Catrina has played a crucial role in modern Mexican art, inspiring artists to celebrate and honor the country’s rich cultural heritage. From street art to commercial products, her image continues to captivate and intrigue people around the world, reminding us of the importance of respecting and celebrating our cultural traditions.

The Influence of La Calavera Catrina on Fashion and Design

La Calavera Catrina represents much more than just a symbol of death in Mexican culture. It’s become a versatile design that has made its way into different fields, including fashion and design. Here, we’ll explore how the skull-inspired Catrina has influenced fashion and design.

The Number 8: Symbolism in Design

The number 8 is a prominent symbol within Mexican culture and carries a significant meaning, making it a vital element of Catrina designs. The number symbolizes the cycle of life and death, as it signifies that a day has both a beginning and an end. This is also represented in the Catrina design, where life and death are celebrated together.

  • Furthermore, in numerology, number 8 is regarded as a sign of infinity, balance and harmony – representing everything that life and death are about.
  • Different designers have incorporated the number 8 in diverse ways in their Catrina designs, such as using eight flowers in the hair, eight bones on the necklaces, eight beads on bracelets, and more.
  • Another way the number 8 is utilized in Catrina design is through the eight layers of colorful paper mâché flowing from the Catrina’s hat, which represents the eight levels of heaven.
Catrina elementSymbolism
8 flowers in hairRemind us of the cyclical nature of life and death
8 bones on necklacesRepresent infinity and balance
8 beaded braceletsSymbolize the eight levels of heaven

The utilization of the number 8 within the Catrina design is fundamental, as it strengthens its symbolic value and makes it a genuine representation of Mexican culture. The incorporation of this numeral in different elements of Catrina designs has made this symbol easily adaptable to the fashion and design world, making it a versatile and iconic design.

Misconceptions and stereotypes about La Catrina

La Catrina is a well-known symbol of Dia de los Muertos, but there are many misconceptions and stereotypes that surround this iconic figure. Understanding the true meaning behind La Catrina is essential for truly honoring the spirit of the holiday.

One of the most common misconceptions about La Catrina is that she represents death. In reality, La Catrina is a representation of the cyclical nature of life and death. She is often depicted wearing opulent clothing and jewelry, symbolizing the idea that death is an equalizer that brings everyone to the same level.

Another stereotype about La Catrina is that she is a symbol of Mexican culture as a whole. While La Catrina is certainly a prominent and beloved figure in Mexican culture, she is not meant to represent the entirety of the country or its people. Much like Dia de los Muertos itself, La Catrina is representative of a specific aspect of Mexican culture and traditions.

Common myths about La Catrina

  • Myth: La Catrina is a symbol of death.
  • Fact: La Catrina represents the cyclical nature of life and death.
  • Myth: La Catrina is a symbol of Mexican culture as a whole.
  • Fact: La Catrina is representative of a specific aspect of Mexican culture and traditions.
  • Myth: La Catrina is a recent invention.
  • Fact: La Catrina actually has roots in pre-Columbian and Aztec mythology.

The significance of the number 9

The number 9 has significant meaning within Dia de los Muertos traditions, and it is often incorporated into La Catrina artwork and decorations. In Mexican culture, the number 9 is seen as a powerful and sacred number, representing the cycle of life and death. There are several ways in which the number 9 is significant in Dia de los Muertos celebrations:

Significance of the number 9 in Dia de los MuertosDescription
9 levels of the underworldIn Mexican mythology, it is believed that there are 9 levels in the underworld that souls must pass through after death. This belief is reflected in Dia de los Muertos traditions, as people often build ofrendas with 9 levels to represent this journey.
9-day celebrationDia de los Muertos is traditionally celebrated for 9 days, beginning on October 31st and ending on November 2nd. This extended celebration allows families to honor their loved ones who have passed away and to reflect on the cycle of life and death.
9 dots on La Catrina’s foreheadLa Catrina is often depicted with 9 dots on her forehead, similar to the dots used in sugar skull makeup. These dots are said to represent the 9 levels of the underworld and the journey that souls must take after death.

By incorporating the number 9 into Dia de los Muertos celebrations and La Catrina artwork, individuals are able to honor the sacred nature of the holiday and pay tribute to the cycle of life and death.

La Catrina in Popular Culture and Media

La Catrina, also known as the Elegant Skull, is a symbol commonly associated with the Mexican holiday of Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). This holiday celebrates the eternal bond between the living and the dead, and Catrina is one of the many cultural icons used to represent this connection.

  • In popular culture, Catrina is often depicted as a skeletal figure wearing a fancy hat adorned with feathers, flowers, and other decorative elements.
  • She is celebrated through various mediums including fashion, makeup, and art.
  • Many people use Catrina makeup as a way to pay homage to their ancestors during the Dia de los Muertos celebrations.

The first-known depiction of Catrina was in the early 20th century, in a zinc etching by Mexican artist Jose Guadalupe Posada. In this etching, Catrina is shown wearing a wide-brimmed hat with a feather, and a fancy dress. The image was meant to satirize Mexico City’s upper class and their efforts to imitate European fashion and customs.

Since then, Catrina has become an important symbol in Mexican culture and is often used to celebrate Dia de los Muertos. Her image can be found on various items such as candles, foods, and decorations during this time of year.

La Catrina in MediaDescription
Disney’s CocoLa Catrina was featured prominently in Disney’s animated film Coco. She helped the protagonist navigate through the afterlife.
Breaking BadLa Catrina appeared in an episode of Breaking Bad, where two characters dressed as her for a party.
Various Art ExhibitsMany art exhibits feature La Catrina as a subject, showcasing her diversity and importance in Mexican culture.

In conclusion, La Catrina is a symbol that represents the rich cultural heritage of Mexico. She is celebrated through art, makeup, fashion, and various forms of media, and has become an iconic figure in pop culture. Her image represents the connection between the living and the dead, and her presence is felt strongly during the Dia de los Muertos celebrations.

What Does a Catrina Symbolize?

What is a Catrina?

A Catrina is a female skeleton figure that is typically dressed in elegant attire and decorated with flowers and other ornamental pieces.

What does a Catrina Symbolize in Mexican Culture?

In Mexican culture, the Catrina symbolizes the idea of death as something to be celebrated, rather than feared. It represents the beauty and acceptance of death as a natural part of life.

What is the Origin of the Catrina Symbol?

The Catrina symbol originated in Mexico during the 19th century as a satirical image of the upper class, mocking their obsession with European fashion and culture.

How is the Catrina Celebrated?

The Catrina is celebrated during the Day of the Dead festivities in Mexico, where it is common to see people dressed up as the skeletal figure, along with other decorative items such as altars and offerings.

What does the Catrina Symbolize in Art?

The Catrina is often depicted in various forms of art, such as paintings and sculptures, as a reminder of the transience of life and the importance of embracing every moment.

What is the Importance of the Catrina Symbol Today?

Today, the Catrina continues to be an important symbol of Mexican culture, representing the country’s unique perspective on death and the celebration of life and heritage. It serves as a reminder to live life to the fullest and embrace our mortality.

Can the Catrina Symbol be Found Outside of Mexico?

Yes, the Catrina symbol has gained popularity throughout the world, with many artists and designers incorporating the iconic figure into their work.

Closing Thoughts

Thanks for reading about what a Catrina symbolizes. We hope you enjoyed learning about this fascinating Mexican tradition. If you’d like to learn more about Mexican culture and customs, be sure to check out our other articles. And don’t forget to visit us again for more exciting content!