Today marks the last day of the annual Guelaguetza festival, which celebrates the unique artistic and culinary traditions of all of the distinct indigenous groups of Oaxaca. For the second year in a row, the public celebrations have been canceled to slow the spread of Covid-19, and the streets remained semi-empty, unlike the usual tapestry of colors and sounds making waves through packed city blocks. Despite this palpable contrast from previous revelries, the Guelaguetza remains alive via colorful street decorations, in smaller and safer gatherings at restaurants and homes, in the spirit of the people of Oaxaca, and in the sweet reminiscing of years past.
MZ's artisan partners miss the festivities, but they say the concept of Guelaguetza runs much deeper than the modern day event. The word Guelaguetza means “offering” in Zapotec, and in traditional Oaxacan villages, when there is an occasion for celebration, the people attending the party will bring an offering known as guelaguetza, in the form of food, beverages, flowers, or other goods. The guelaguezta offering is a concept of reciprocal exchange that is pre-colonial, whereas the modern-day celebrations go back only 100 years.
The main event typically occurs over the last two Mondays in July, known as Los Lunes del Cerro ("Mondays on the Hill"), taking place on the Cerro de Fortin, a large hill that overlooks Oaxaca City and has a special outdoor stadium built especially for Guelaguetza. Representatives from different regions of Oaxaca gather in traditional costumes, performing the dances which are particular to their region. After they dance, they distribute gifts to the crowd: fruit, baskets, candy, mezcal, tamales and other local goods.
Throughout the weeks leading up to the last Monday, the streets are normally filled with revelers, live music, vendors, and parades. Locals and tourists come together to celebrate the rich and vibrant indigenous cultures of Oaxaca, making it a wonderful time to visit and experience everything the region has to offer.
We are hopeful that next year this beautiful tradition is back in full swing. This virtual reminiscence of the Guelaguetza festival serves as a poignant reminder that what we have to truly celebrate in life is rooted in the spirit of giving, sharing, and rejoicing in each other.