What happens when two unlikely cultural worlds collide? Well, pandemonium ensues, of course! Although in this day and age, news of such a phenomena is likely to go viral, occupying all known spaces in social media. And that’s exactly what happened when Barbie (yes, the doll!) met the Day of the Dead festival.
You know an event or a personality is really famous when they’re captured in a doll, and there’s nothing more celebrated than Barbie. Produced by Mattel, Inc., Barbie has inspired children all over the world to explore their limitless potential. The toy came about when Ruth Handler, co-founder of Mattel, thought of making a 3-D version of the paper dolls that her daughter played with. In 1959, the doll, named after her daughter Barbara, made its debut at the New York Toy Fair.
Initially confronted with skepticism, Handler persevered, as did Barbie. Since then, the toy has evolved into a global icon, embodying over 200 careers and counting, from registered nurse to firefighter, and pilot to president. Barbie continues to honor women achievers and role models, helping to lay the groundwork for the dreams and aspirations of millions of children.
After 60 years, Barbie continues to break boundaries, particularly with this latest incarnation, which symbolizes Dia de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead festival. This increasingly popular Mexican festival, which will take place this year on October 31 to November 2, is a homage to departed loved ones.
Originally a harvest celebration for the Aztecs, the genesis of the festival was initially celebrated towards the end of summer, structured around the farming season. The holiday later merged with the Catholic traditions of All Saints’ and All Souls’ Day due to the influence of Spanish conquistadors in Latin America. While the Catholic events called on saints and souls, families first remember children who have died, and then the adults, on the Day of the Dead festival.
The event is marked by parties and parades because on those days, it is believed that the souls of loved ones can commune with the living. The spirits of children are gifted with toys and calaveras (sugar skulls), while adults are offered their favorite food, possessions, and drinks. Wearing colorful costumes, revelers wear skull masks, paint skulls on their faces, or give sugar skulls as gifts to both the living and the dead.
At home, families set up ofrendas, or elaborately decorated altars, laden with photographs of late relatives and various presents. Homes, streets, and graveyards are adorned with skeletons, skulls, and other offerings. Increasingly popular beyond the borders of Mexico, the holiday was recognized by UNESCO in 2008 as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The festival was also central to the critically-acclaimed 2017 Pixar film “Coco,” which then won two Academy Awards.
The popular symbols of the Day of the Dead festival figure prominently in the new Barbie. Mattel states that the doll “honors the traditions, symbols and rituals often seen throughout this time.” Barbie’s dress is long, black, and embroidered with hearts and butterflies, the sleeves colorful and ruffled.
The butterflies have come to represent the souls of visiting loved ones as migrating monarch butterflies generally arrive in Mexico around the same time as the festival. Barbie wears traditional skull makeup, with her turquoise-streaked black hair in two braids. Her look is completed with a crown adorned with butterflies and marigolds.
The limited-edition Barbie may set buyers back by $75, but is a fitting tribute to the vibrant, centuries-old holiday. With the Day of the Dead festival fast approaching, signs of the coming festivities are beginning to emerge, and this beautiful Barbie may be the most anticipated one yet.