Day of the Dead Festival brings traditions to life

By Adelle Morgan-Cordero
BLC Staff

According to tradition in Mexico and many other countries, as long as the deceased are in our hearts and memories, they are still with us. The Day of the Dead (Día de Muertos) celebration on Nov. 2nd commemorates those who have passed on but remain alive in our memories.

The Annual Festival de Día de Muertos, organized by the small town of Ixtlahuacan de los Membrillos, Jalisco (just north of Chapala) does an exceptional job of keeping the Day of the Dead traditions alive, as an estimated 50,000 people flock to share in the event.

The exceptionally colorful and lively festival centers around construction of the “World’s Largest Catrina” in the town plaza. The festival is kicked off by an impressive parade, and the event also features contests for the Best Catrina Costume and the Best Altar to the Dead. Each contest carries prizes of up to $50,000 pesos and draws participants from throughout Jalisco and beyond.


Around $90,000 pesos and days of ‘round-the-clock work by townsfolk and municipal employees go into building the giant Catrina. Although it may not win the prize for beauty, it officially (as verified by a notary public) measures around 31.7meters (104 ft.) in height, presumably making it the World’s Largest Catrina.

The official Guinness “World’s Largest Catrina” in Zapotlanejo.

At 20 meters, a shorter but undeniably prettier Zapotlanejo Catrina has been declared the world’s largest by Guiness World Records.

According to the Ixtlahuacan Presidente/Mayor Eduardo Cervantes Aguilar, the town and festival attendees have the satisfaction of knowing that the Ixtlahuacan Catrina beat the world record by a good 10 meters (as confirmed by a notary public), and there was no need to spend an additional $10,000 from the public treasury money for Guinness certification.

“We weren’t competing for a Guinness record,” said Ixtlahuacan Presidente/Mayor Eduardo Cervantes Aguilar. “but rather to keep our traditions alive.”

The Festival certainly seems to have accomplished that objective.


Last year, more than 250 contestants of all ages competed in the Best Catrina Costume contest. The entrants – men, women, children and couples, obviously spared no expense or effort in fabricating elaborate and colorful costumes and makeup. It was an tough decision for the three judges to decide who would win the 20,000-peso, 30,000-peso and $50,000-peso prizes.


To try and describe the variety and imagination of these costumes would be impossible, so click here to check out the photos and videos shot by Ixtlahuacan resident Rene Bon Ceric (Renich. Additional photos, videos and information (in Spanish) are available at the Ixtlahuacan de los Membrillos Facebook page .

Intricate altar decorations were made of a wide variety of materials, such as this one using cord kernels, black beans, colored sand, flowers and more.


The Best Alter to the Dead contests filled the main avenue leading from the Chapala-Guadalajara Carretera to the Ixtlahuacan plaza. The street itself was closed to traffic and decorated days ahead.

Ninety display altars were assembled from an endless assortment of materials such as colored sand, corn, beans, flowers, stones, cancles, tissue paper, etc., etc.  The altars paid homage to characters like Chespirito, Juan Gabriel and other local, contemporary or historical figures. 

One altar remembered former Ixtlahuacan Cultural Director Danny Greñas, who died several years ago in a car crash.

Once again, the altar-builders aspired to win the 20,000-peso, 30,000-peso and $50,000-peso prize money.

As with the Catrina costumes, the altars are too varied to adequately describe, so click here to check out the photos and videos shot by Ixtlahuacan resident Rene Bon Ceric (Renich). Additional photos, videos and information (in Spanish) are available at the Ixtlahuacan de los Membrillos Facebook page .

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So, how will Ixtlahuacan — already home to the area’s largest and highest flag — outdo this year’s Day of the Dead Festival? Well, hmmm, rumor has it that the town is already considering building the World’s Largest Christmas Tree. We will keep you posted!

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Editor’s Note: Click here to see a related Best of Lake Chapala article by Kristina Morgan.