From October 31 to November 2, Mexico celebrates the Day of the Dead. But the Day of the Dead isn’t a day of sadness; it’s a day of joy, life, and celebration! Homes across the country decorate with ofrendas (“shines” filled with pictures of their deceased loved ones and their favorite things), and the scent of marigolds and incense fills the streets to welcome the souls that have come back to earth to visit their families.
The whole country joins in a party, and each corner of the country has a unique way of celebrating this ancient, one of a kind holiday. If you want to experience the traditions that people practice during the Day of the Dead, we recommend that you visit Oaxaca. With its traditions that date back millennia, Oaxaca will make you re_imagine death in a different way.
A festival of flowers and fantasy
The state of Oaxaca is synonymous with parties, and one of the most important celebrations in Oaxaca is the Day of the Dead, a holiday that comes once a year that full of fun for all ages.
Celebrations begin in the middle of October with activities where friends and family get together. One of the most famous activities is a parade through the center of the city where music, colors, musical troupes, and flowers come together to create a party in the streets that everyone’s invited to.
The parade, or comparsa, is a procession unlike any other, where people dress up in velvet suits, masks, sequins, mirrors, and rattles while music bands play and paintings reflecting age-old traditions adorn the streets. During the parade, a bell announcing the beginning of the nocturnal pilgrimage rings, and people bring food and drinks to the dead while setting off fireworks to get the party started. The pilgrimage is a celebration of life and death.
Parades full of color and sound take place all over Oaxaca and locals and tourists alike are invited to join the celebration. Guided by drums, fireworks, flowers, and most of all, the excitement of the participants, the parades give life to the Day of the Dead celebrations.
Joining the parade is like taking part in a huge street party where meaningful music is accompanied by marmots or “giants” in costume. Men, women, and children dress in traditional clothes and re_vive millennia old traditions.
Oaxacan destinations where you can re_unite with tradition
Since you’re already visiting Oaxaca, there are a few places that are famous for their Day of the Dead traditions that are definitely worth checking out.
In the Etla district of Santiago Suchilquitongo, locals celebrate the Faithful Dead with an exhibit of altars and tapestries as well as interactive plays where the visitors of all ages can participate. A traditional kermesse (a mass celebrating the anniversary of the founding of a church or its patron) re_vives the cemetery and fills the atmosphere with delicious aromas.
On November 2, the city celebrates the “Night of Lights” that entails bringing “ofrendas” to the cemetery and lighting candles to illuninate the graves of the souls that rest there. The cemetery itself is stunning with architecture and tombs dating back to 1845. This is one place that you can’t miss.
Santa Cruz Xoxocotlán
Just 50 kilometers from the Oaxaca center you’ll find a town called Santa Cruz Xoxocotlán, where the celebrations begin on the night of November 1 with family members re_uniting in the municipal cemetery with traditional dishes, drinks, flowers, and candles. Tapestries made out of sand, paint, and flour adorn the graves of the deceased’s patron saints.
The iconic sounds of band music re_animates the cemetery’s atmosphere, and family and visitors sway to the music while they wait to be re_united with their deceased loved ones.
Nothing re_animates the world like age-old traditions and the cultures waiting to be discovered. If you’ve never been to a Day of the Dead celebration in Mexico, get ready to experience the best celebrations of life and beyond in Oaxaca.
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