Day of the Dead

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Day of the Dead in Oaxaca

Day of the Dead is the most time-honored and expressive holiday of Oaxaca. It is an example of the harmonious relationship between Christianity and the pre-hispanic traditions found in the state of Oaxaca.

Although Day of the Dead or Día de los Muertos is recognized all over Mexico, Oaxaca has become known for its ornately rich celebrations venerating the return of their deceased loved ones on November 1st and 2nd.

In the state capital, Oaxaca City, the festivities of Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos) begin a week before the 1st and 2nd of November with the commencement of the “Plaza de los Muertos.” This elaborate initiation takes place in each city market, but principally in the Mercado de Abastos. 

In each plaza one may find all the necessary items to prepare for the arrival of the dead including the ingredients for traditional  Oaxacan dishes such as mole negro, pan de yema, and Oaxacan chocolate. One will also find a grand assortment of flowers used to decorate the sacred altars dedicated to the deceased.

The flower of the dead – the sweet-smelling “cempasuchil” (marigolds) – as well as the oil lamps and the white or yellow bees wax candles adorned with black tissue paper are the final decorative accents. Another Day of the Dead tradition in Oaxaca.

The MOCAdventures Team

Oaxacan Altars

The Oaxacan altars are most commonly built on October 30th and October 31st in the Oaxacan people’s homes. The altar is generally set on a table, and then it is wrapped with a tablecloth, white sheet, or perforated tissue paper. Sugarcane is bound to the table’s foot and runs high over overhead into the shape of a triumphal arch. On the morning of October 31st, the offerings are placed on the altars; these offerings consist of exquisite dishes that the relatives will come to savor the aromas.

Among these offerings are the delicious Oaxacan mole, freshly seasoned by the women, the delicious nicuatole (corn jelly), pumpkin with black sugar, sugarcane, tejocotes (small wild apples), the delicious pan de Muerto (bread of the dead), and the exquisite chocolate ground by stone. There is also an endless medley of regional fruit consisting of oranges, limes, bananas, jicamas, wild apples, nuts, peanuts, medlar, pineapples, and cooked chayote. The best ingredients for the most popular dishes in the Oaxacan cuisine are always served on Day of the Dead in Oaxaca.

After their long pilgrimage from the other life, it is an old belief that the dead arrive on earth tired and thirsty. So, a gourd or glass filled with water is placed on the altar for them and the other food offerings. The dead are welcome and expected to bask in the essence of this splendid fervor.

On the last day of October, the procession of souls begins with the children. They visit the altars in the late afternoon and, upon their arrival, they feast upon the food laid out for them. November 2nd is reserved for the souls of the adults who have passed on but now return. They, too, shall have their fill.

Day of the dead

In villages outside the city of Oaxaca, the celebration of Muertos is most commonly known as Todos Santos, or All Saints. This day is often the most celebrated day of the year. The altars found in the homes of the villagers and in cemeteries are honored by all. It is most commonly located in the cemetery and during the course of Muertos, one will find the graves wonderfully decorated with candles, flowers and food.

During this time the living join together to rejoice the return of their ancestors. Visiting cemeteries and homes enables one to enjoy the richness of this celebration. The energy of the occasion is awesome. All present rejoice in the happy reunions, and you too shall feel the presence of the departed souls returned!

In addition to visiting homes and cemeteries, one may experience the cultural richness of this time by getting involved in the Comparsas, theatrical performances representing the return of the dead, which take place in various outlying villages.

You will find that there is much to see and do in the city of Oaxaca and in the outlying villages. For this reason, we designed the Day of the Dead itinerary, considering time for you to stay in the city to experience the altars and comparsas with us. This freedom enables you to design your own days, yet guarantees an all-encompassing series of events sure to deliver the diverse wonders of Oaxaca’s Day of the Dead celebration.


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