The Day of the Dead – Dia de Muertos – is a traditional Mexican holiday that involves praying for family members and loved ones who have died in order to help them on their spiritual journey “on the other side.” This holiday has spread through much of Latin America and even into Europe and throughout the world. And now, with the release of the new Pixar film, Coco, it’s probably about to become a much bigger deal among the world’s toy-loving children.
Since the Day of the Dead falls on November 1, in the United States, American’s tend to associate it with their own death-themed holiday, Halloween, which falls on October 31.
In Spain, though, November 1 is a different holiday known as All Saints’ Day (Todos Los Santos), a traditional Catholic celebration that recognizes, as the name suggests, all the saints in the religion. Across the country, there are numerous regionally-specific holidays dedicated to individual saints throughout the year (for instance, the Feast of San Antonio in La Alberca), but All Saints’ Day is celebrated nationwide.
Halloween in Madrid
On Halloween last month, my roommates and I went out into the Madrid night to see how – if – the city celebrated the morbidly amusing holiday. As has been explained to me by locals, Halloween was not traditionally celebrated in Spain, but over the last decade or so, it’s slowly grown in popularity here (America is insidious like that).
Though the Day of the Dead and All Saints’ Day are very different holidays, their roots are similarly based in commemoration of the deceased (either relatives or the saints) and a celebration of the changing season. Likewise, Halloween shares many of the same roots, so though the three holidays hold very specific cultural meanings within each country, they make for pretty natural bedfellows.
While All Saints’ Day isn’t traditionally associated with costumes, the mixture of American and Latin American expats has created a blended holiday here in Madrid. On the streets, not many people were dressed up for the night, but those that did opted for rather simple costumes (including me and my roommates). There were quite a few Day of the Dead-inspired skull designs.
I’ve experienced some of America’s most enthusiastic Halloween cities – New Orleans and Chapel Hill are two must-visit spots for any Halloween-obsessive – so in comparison, Madrid was fairly subdued, even considering that the next day was a national holiday.
Yet, when our group split up and a few of us attempted to find a taxi home, we found ourselves S.O.L. in Sol, Madrid’s tourist-heavy, bustling city center. Ubers and Cabifys were unavailable and every passing cab swung past the crowds like they were urgently navigating through hordes of zombies. By the time we finally found a ride, we’d been stuck for over two hours.
Speaking of Dia de Muertos (look at that segue), last week I was contacted out of the blue by two artists from Los Angeles who were traveling through Spain and wanted to do a Day of the Dead-themed model shoot. Erika, the make-up artist and founder of Drop Dead Gorgeous Artist, specializes in Day of the Dead designs, while the model, Marcia, is a wardrobe stylist who serves as Erika’s go-to travel companion/make-up guinea pig.
Meeting on a Tuesday night, we walked through Madrid’s richly decorated neighborhoods, looking for unique and colorful backdrops. The shoot lasted a few hours, and in the process I saw areas of the city that I had never known existed. Our wandering took us from Sol to Matadero Madrid and back up to Chueca (we might have hit a few bars along the way).
I had a blast doing this shoot, though it offered me a number of challenges, not all of which I’d say I overcame. For one, I had to quickly adapt to a variety of light sources I could not control as well as a number of areas with very low light. Additionally, shooting such bright and expressive make-up on top of a luminous red dress, while wonderful for eye-popping imagery, created some editing headaches.
Of the 150+ photos I took for the shoot, I’m solidly happy with maybe half of them. A professional photographer certainly could have advised me on how to make my failed attempts work better, especially if I had more adaptable equipment (for instance, a portable light source), but for my first make-up-centric shoot, I ain’t mad. It’s all a learning process.
To see the full Dia de Muertos model shoot, click here or go to the 1000 Words link at the top of the page. Let me know what you think.