Day of the Dead, Oaxaca, Mexico

A Mexican cemetery during the Day of the Dead celebrations.

Day of the Dead. A Mexican cemetery during the Dia de los Muertos celebrations. Photo by ZwieRys.

Day of the Dead in Oaxaca, when and where

Days of the Dead is perhaps Mexico’s most illuminating festival, celebrating death and departed relatives with enormous gusto, colour and fearless respect. It runs from Oct 31 – to Nov 2, unofficially combining Halloween with All Saints Day (Nov 1) and All Souls Day (Nov 2).

In key towns, such as Oaxaca, Mixquic (only just south of Mexico City) and Janitzio island, Lake Pátzcuaro in Michoacán (west of Mexico City), Merida, Yucatan where the celebrations are referred to as Hanal Pixan, which means ‘feast for the souls’ in the Maya language.

Day of the Dead Festival, kid's fancy dress, Oaxaca, Mexico

More commercial/less traditional

Aguascalientes presents something similar but without the cemetery focus over the same three days with Festival de las Calaveras (Festival of Skulls). There’s a parade of calaveras along the main street is a highlight of the festival, theatrical productions, concerts and plenty of opportunities to spend.

Xcaret water park on the Riviera Maya hosts an annual Festival de la Vida y la Muerte, also on the same three days, with theater, dance, concerts, parades and Days of the Dead ceremonies.

Day of the Dead sugar skulls, Oaxaca, Mexico

Sugar skulls (great cheap souvenirs! ) and endless skeletons hanging around.

Macabre death oriented products such as sugar skulls, bread bones, dancing skeletons and all manner of creepy costumes hit the streets a few days before the event.

Shrines

A personal shrine seen during Day of the Dead festival, Oaxaca, Mexico

A beautifully decorated personal shrine, one of many scattered around Oaxaca, as well as varied artistic representations such as sand sidewalk graphics, but most interesting of all are the all night cemetery parties, where families play music, sing to, meet and greet departed family members who come back to check how things are going back on planet Oaxaca.

During the Days of the Dead festivals – both days and nights – cheerful strolling musicians, spooky costumed kids and sand artists encourage donations while homes and churches display altars artistically loaded with fruit, flowers, candles and favourite foods of the visiting souls.

a cemetery in daytime seen during Day of the Dead festival, Oaxaca, Mexico

A daytime look at a cemetery in Leon Guanajuato. Photo by Tomas Castelazo.

dressed to kill during Days of the Dead festival, Oaxaca, Mexico

Ah, los ricos getting in on the Day of the Dead scene in Mexico City but fairly clearly more concerned about themselves than their ancestors, but looking good! Photo by Dega86.

A typically cheerful Oaxaca Day of the Dead cemetery scene, Mexico

A typically cheerful Oaxaca cemetery scene, though. . .

Nightfall sees family groups heading for cemeteries with guitars and picnic hampers for a meet ‘n’ greet ‘n’ party with the dead, a refreshing attitude to an irresistible event that most westerners avoid even contemplating, let alone celebrating.

A typically cheerful Oaxaca Day of the Dead cemetery party, Mexico

. . . there are meditative tableaux also.

Mexican Festivals

Girl in a Day of the Dead cemetery at night, Mixquic, Mexico

Photo by Jordi Arocha.

And yes, you should ask permission before taking photos, and certainly if using a flash!

January, Fiesta de Enero, Chiapa de Corzo (Chiapas). Bizarre dances, costumes, masks, parades, fireworks.

Feb/March Carnaval, date depends on the year, Veracruz, Cozumel, Mazatlan and other cities. A wild party time with dance, music, parades, costumes.

March, Chichen Itza (Yucatan) see the Kukulcan snake god appear, plus varied entertainments. Couple of days before & after too.

Easter Week/Semana Santa, nationwide but especially Chiapas state, processions, costumes, fireworks, music, dance and some weird rituals.

Mid April – early May, Feria de San Marcos, Aguascalientes. A huge and long established celebration of Mexican music and machismo, with rodeos, bull fights, folk dancing, parades, mariachi y mucho mas.

May, Cinco de Mayo, Puebla (just north of Mexico City) is celebrated with the usual music, dance, parades and mock battles in the ‘living museum’ of Puebla.

September, 3rd Saturday, Running of the Bulls, aka Pamplonada or Sanmiguelada. Varied festivities apart from the Pamplona imitation, including dancing and fireworks.

Oct 31- Nov 2, Day of the Dead (Dias de los Muertos). Mainly in the states of Michoacan (especially Lake Patzcuaro) and Oaxaca, a visually and psychologically fascinating festival. e. g. partying with departed relatives in cemeteries at night!

December 12, Feast of the Virgin of Guadalupe, nationwide but especially in Guadalupe, north of Mexico City, with dancing, processions, costumes, fireworks and so on.