Dance with the DeadOaxaca, Mexico
Towards the end of October, the cobbled streets of Oaxaca are not only filled with the usual stream of tourists who come to enjoy the rich culture and cuisine. Around ever corner and every alleyway lurk papier-mâché skeletons bedecked in their finery, and otherworldly beings setting out to spook. Shop windows are filled with skulls and bony beings carefully crafted in sugar or chocolate, and decorative altars to the dead are erected in hotel lobbies.
But don't be afraid. This annual festival of the dead, Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is an uplifting celebration. While the evenings buzz with frantic street parties, the traditional activities centre mainly around homes and cemeteries as families welcome back those who have passed on for this briefest of visits. The spirits of the town’s children are the first to return on 31 October, with 1 November the time of the adult spirits and 2 November marking the night of farewell. As important a feature on the calendar as Christmas, this annual event coincides with Halloween, but is quite different from the witches and ghouls you may be familiar with – instead merging the traditions of All Hallows' Eve, brought to Mexico by Spanish colonisers, with the pre-Colombian traditions of Mexico’s indigenous peoples.
The dead are depicted as smiling and dancing, and are greeted with music and a selection of their favourite foods piled high on the decorative altars. Graves in the cemeteries are decorated with flowers and candles by the friends and families, with many spending the night there to reflect and reminisce.
- The festive feeling that fills the town
- The elaborate costumes and parades
- Trying foods prepared especially for the event, such as pan de muertos (bread of the dead)
- The beauty of the cemeteries, lit up after dark
- It can be hard to know where to go if you’re alone
- It’s fun… but definitely a bit creepy
A number of airlines fly into Oaxaca. Alternatively, you can take the bus from Mexico City or simply rent a car and go it alone. United Airlines offer regular flights into Mexico City.
Sometimes the best things in life (and death) are free…
Knowing where the parties are taking place requires a little help from the locals.
It may be party time out in the streets, but the cemeteries are still places for peaceful reflection for many, so be respectful.