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Day of the Dead

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Category: festival
Where: Oaxaca, Mexico
When: 1 Nov - 2 Nov 2016

Mexico's famous commemoration of the dead - el día de los muertos - is both a joyous and touching celebration. In Oaxaca, the people remember their ancestors by decorating the cemeteries, praying, singing, eating and drinking there through the night.

The festival's origins lie in pre-Hispanic Mexico, when a month was dedicated to commemorating the spirits of the dead. After Christianisation, it was moved from July/August to coincide with the Christian feast days of All Saints Day and All Souls Day in November.

In Oaxaca, like most of Mexico, there are two days of the dead: the Día de los Angelitos on 1 November, dedicated to the souls of children who have died; and Día de Los Muertos on 2 November, dedicated to the spirits of the adult dead.

The preparations for the festival begin weeks in advance, shops filling with decorative paper skulls, morbid little lanterns, costumes, plastic skeletons and themed candy, like white chocolate skeletons. Often cemeteries are decorated and favourite food and drink of the deceased taken there, along with a photograph of them.

On the Día de los Angelitos, cherished toys and other objects are brought out and placed on altars in the home. The spirits of the little-ones are invited to come and partake of the feast, and often a place is set for them at the table.

The second day is the main day of the celebration, and is marked with colourful events in the Xócalo main square, Palace Museum, restaurants in the Old Town and most of the theatres. Much of the day is spent in cemeteries, and there is a traditional communion meal in the evening. You'll also find public altars throughout the city, along with flower offerings, concerts and the wafts of chicken with chocolate and tomato mole sauce.


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