Dia de Los Muertos in Oaxaca, MexicoThe Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebration is a quintessentially Mexican festival not to be missed. Celebrating the lives of lost loved ones, it takes place generally from the 31st October to the 2nd November although different towns and villages celebrate at slightly different times. This festival happens all over the country, but the city of Oaxaca in the heart of Mexico comes alive to combine the traditional and the modern perfectly.
When night falls, music and comparsas (parades) fill the street. The city is decorated with altars, sculptures of skulls in sand are created in the streets, candy skulls and special day of the dead bread, Pan de Muerto are for sale. Traditional dancers and face-painted revelers in costumes party around the city centre throwing candy to the crowds. In the cemeteries, the mood is more serene with many families decorating the graves of loved ones with Flor de Muerto (Flower of the dead), food, gifts, Mezcal, and other favorite things of their ancestors, all to entice their soul back to spend time here on earth. Families sit at the graveside and talk about their loved ones while passing around food and Mezcal. There is an incredible light show where Dia de Los Muertos images are projected onto the Santo Domingo church in a spectacular display.
On our first night, we went to the Panteon General, a central cementario (cemetery) in Oaxaca and this was a real highlight for me. We were invited to spend time with a local family celebrating the lives of their grandparents. They shared their food and Mezcal with us and told us about this tradition, giving us a unique insight into the celebrations. The Xoxocotlán cemetery, a bus or taxi ride outside the city, was also a popular location to witness this local tradition by candlelight.
On the second night, we went to a small village close to Oaxaca, San Augustin Etla, famous for the incredible costumes the locals make. There is a prize for the best dressed, so you can imagine the amount of effort that goes into these costumes. The Mezcal was flowing again as the small plaza filled with locals and tourists alike enjoying the incredible costume display. It is traditional in this comparsa is to cover the elaborate costumes covered with mirrors and bells, making them pretty heavy. But every time the music starts these costumes sparkle and ring in time with the music as they all start dancing to the beat making for a spectacular sound and atmosphere.
On our last night, the streets were emptier, city altars were being disassembled and we thought the celebrations were over. But then we heard the sound of distant music and followed it until we found another comparsa. We got talking with a Mexican family and after a bit more parading, they invited us to their home for tacos and coffee making our whole experience complete. So add this to your list of things to do. It was an incredibly memorable way to get more insight into the fantastic Mexican culture.
Another great article about Dia de Los Muertos can be found on The Mexico Reader.