Among the many faces in the crowds filling the streets to celebrate Día de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead, this weekend, there will likely be a very familiar one: La Catrina.
The macabre skull donning a fancy hat, who is sometimes called the "elegant skeleton" in English, has been a part of folk culture in Mexico for more than a century. But in recent decades, she's become a staple during Day of the Dead commemorations. The annual Mexican holiday, which honors those who have passed on, will be marked on November 1 and 2.
"She’s a playful skeleton. There’s that playful, festive atmosphere also on Day of the Dead that characterizes the Mexican approach to death in general," said Andrew Chesnut, a Virginia Commonwealth University professor of religious studies who specializes in Latin America. "It’s hard to imagine the Day of the Dead commemoration without her."
La Catrina was created by cartoonist José Guadalupe Posada at the start of the Mexican Revolution as a commentary on the rule and Francophile tastes of authoritarian leader Porfirio Díaz and the aristocratic class. Some suggest the character was based on Díaz's second wife.
"He created the character, really, as a satirical figure to mock the Eurocentric Mexican elite, whose policies were resulting in hunger and starvation for 90 percent of the Mexican populace," Chesnut told Refinery29. "The skeleton is the representation of the death of the policies this dictatorship was having in Mexico."
Women dressed as La Catrina often wear a full face of skull makeup and "turn-of-the-century French finery, with the hat and the lacy dresses and such," he said. Unlike Halloween costumes in the United States, La Catrina still carries political and cultural significance in Mexican culture.
While Catrina remains a favorite among revelers, another skeletal icon — the mythical Santa Muerte — has also become a popular icon on the Day of the Dead, according to Chesnut, the author of Devoted to Death: Santa Muerte, the Skeleton Saint. The miracle-granting folk saint is believed to be the fastest-growing new religious movement in the Americas, he said, with an estimated 10 to 12 million devotees.
"People ask her for all types of miracles," he said: "health, wealth, love."
Click through to see stunning photos of women paying tribute to La Catrina and the Day of the Dead in Mexico.