The celebration of Día De Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is magical time here in Oaxaca. It's a holiday that draws from the local indigenous tradition and is a time to honor and remembering one's ancestors, when the souls of the departed come back to visit the living. Weeks before the actual holiday, which is primarily celebrated between October 31st and November 2nd, you can see the city changing. The markets are filled with cempasúchil flowers (marigolds), which are used to help guide the dead back to the living, pan de muerto (special sweet bread), sugar skulls, colorful paper streamers called papel picado and countless other traditional decorations and offerings for the dead. While the holiday is celebrated throughout Mexico, Oaxaca boasts the biggest and most traditional festivities. While Día De Los Muertos centers around the dead, it is not scary or sad, but rather a beautiful communal celebration that commemorates life and death.
In almost every home you will find altars laden with ofrendas (offerings) for the souls of the departed that are believed to come back to visit during this time. Ofrendas could be flowers, pan de muertos (sweet bread), small gifts, favorite dishes and beverages of the deceased, sugar skulls, candles, and the local sacred incense called copal.
Families go to the cemeteries to clean and decorate their ancestors' graves with the same sorts of offerings. They spend entire nights there with their loved ones, both the living and the dead, remembering, sometimes mourning, but more often sharing stories, eating, drinking, and playing music.
Oaxaca city, as well as the surrounding towns, have many street parades known as calendas with fireworks, face painting, dancers, puppets, music and costumes. There are lots of feasts and parties and an overall sense of magic and playfulness throughout the city.
While Día de los Muertos decorations can look distinctly Catholic, with lots of religious iconography and crosses, the beliefs predate colonization, with its roots in Zapotec culture and spirituality. Día de los Muertos is a representation of how indigenous traditions and catholicism have melded together.
This magical holiday is not only about bright and colorful festivities but about the connection of the living with the dead. It's a beautiful way to honor your ancestors while spending time with your loved ones. If you ever have the chance to come to Oaxaca for this unique celebration we couldn't recommend it more!