Celebrating Dia de Muertos

As a traveller, celebrating Dia de Muertos in Oaxaca is like looking in on an expressive, joyful, kaleidoscopic world. Walking the streets each night you pass brass bands playing while people dance, decorations with candles, skulls and marigolds, raucous parades and somber prayers and masses.

Day of the Dead is a Mexican holiday in which families and friends come together to celebrate and remember loved ones who have died. Like Halloween and All Souls, the underlying belief is that those who have died will revisit the living during this period, and when they do, Mexico is ready to welcome them and help them pass through in style.

The most significant days of the festival are October 31st, November 1st and November 2nd. During the period, families share special meals and reflect on those who are not there, prayers are said and people attend church services. Elaborate altars are built with the favourite foods and photographs of those who have died. Messages to the dead are written and spoken, and graves are visited and decorated.

As well as reflection and tributes for the dead, the period takes on a celebratory atmosphere with big parades through the main streets, where music plays and costumed, face-painted participants dance and sing. Some people are dressed in traditional Mexican costumes and some as Halloween-style skeletons and devils. Lots of children and teenagers dress up and form a large part of the celebrations, and there are parades specifically for children. Oaxaca, incidentally, also has a special parade for dogs, in which owners dress up their puppies. Some favourites from this year were the satan dog, and who could forget the bride dog in white tulle, oh and then there was the hot dog dog :)

What's really interesting about Dia de Muertos is how it seems to happily combine pagan and mystical spirituality with formal Catholic rituals. This combining of beliefs reflects Mexico's history, in which indigenous cultures ruled and had their own mystical spirituality, and this was overtaken when the Spanish invaded and brought in Catholicism.

The other fantastic aspect is how much of the happenings play out in public, either in streets and squares or at cemeteries. This means that as a visitor it is easy to tap into the events and watch them unfold before you.


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Anna Metcalfe is a content maker, word writer and editor of things.