Day of the Dead  Sand Painting Oaxaca, Mexico,
Sand Painter Juan Cruz Pascual
Day of the Dead  Sand Painting Oaxaca, Mexico
The Day of the Dead Celebration in Oaxaca is a three-day November holiday during which families clean the graves and prepare the tombs for the return of the spirits.
During this time the traditional flowers decorate the tombs and home altars but in some villages the popular decoration is the
sand painting.
Several styles of decoration mark the ceremony in Oaxaca, one is the tapete of flowers, (to the left), a painting much like a rug done with flower buds, petals and whole flowers. These will adorn the tomb or grave site.
The same style or similar could  be done with
sand and colored powder creating a sand painting.
Some
sand paintings will be flat and called traditional. They will likely incorporate Christian motifs, Others will be in a three dimensional bas relief style.  The tendency now is to create larger and larger sand paintings of three dimensions.
The sand paintings honor either a saint or an important historic figure. Some of the recent versions have tried to make a political observation.
A  visit to the cemeteries near Oaxaca on the
last night of October and the first two nights of November can be a magical time. Thousands of candles and marigold flowers decorate the tombs.  The smell of copal incense and marigold petals, the sight of thousands of candles, and the lively music of a brass band or the baleful moans of a religious dirge make the night unique.  
The build up to the event can be just as intriguing as the city prepares and turns several
pedestrian-only streets over to artists and students who create sand painting with an historic or religious theme.     See village schedule below
While flowers still play the most important part in the ceremony and the markets are heaped with marigold and cockscomb, the flowers with special meaning that the families will use to decorate their home altars and tombs, the sand painting will be popular in some villages as the way to attract the spirits.
In the new cemetery of XoXo Cotlon, artist Juan Cruz Pascual decorates  with a sand painting that includes Christian motifs
Juan Cruz Pascual in the new cemetery of XoXo, just a mile or so from Oaxaca City, prepares his Traditional sand painting at the grave of his father while a diminutive audience looks on.
attracted followers who borrow his stencils and become students.
Future sand painters look on
Juan, a graphic artist working as an illustrator on archaeological projects, is fluent in English and recently traveled to the US at the invitation of Texas A&M University to demonstrate the traditional sand painting.  The stencils were passed to Juan from his uncle and remain in the family, He will make new ones as these become no longer usable and he will pass the new ones along to his family.
Juan completes the sand painting with a border of flowers and candles. This painting depicts the Virgin of Soledad, the Patron Saint of Oaxaca.
Juan's sand painting (left) is traditional with a Christian motif. Others will have a Native American theme like this one (right) inspired by the Mixtec codex.

The new trend is to make large sand paintings. This one done at the new museum in Oaxaca's former Government Offices
Meanwhile each village in the surrounding mountains and valleys celebrates at different times and with different intensity. Several use sand paintings or a combination of sand and flower petals. The evenings are sure to be unique whether the people decorate with flowers or sand as families come to the graveyards and light thousands of candles as they sit by the tombs and wait for the spirits to return.
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Juan Cruz Pascual decorates his fathers grave during the Day of the Dead, in the new cemetery of  Xoxocotlon  with a traditional sand painting that includes Christian motifs

See  cemetery schedule below for best times to visit
Juan Cruz Pascual decorates the grave of his father.
Day of the Dead  Sand Painting by artist  Juan Cruz Pascual
Day of the Dead  Sand Painting Oaxaca, Mexico, Sand Painter Juan Cruz Pascual decorates the grave of his father.
Day of the Dead  Sand Painting created by Oaxaca  Sand Painter Juan Cruz Pascual who decorates the grave of his father.
Day Of The Dead Sand Painting, stencils hat includes Christian motifs
Day of the Dead Sand Painting in Oaxaca enters a new era as artists continually make larger sand paintings, this one done at the museum in Oaxaca's former Government Offices
Day of the Dead, traditional  Sand Painting by Juan Cruz Pascual

October, 31
Xoxocotlan. This town a few miles southwest of Oaxaca City  has two Cemeteries, Cementario Viejo, and the new cemetery, Cementario Nuevo.   Many visitors make this a crowded cemetery by 10:00 PM
The old cemetery is a magic place, however,  when it is lit by thousands of candles.

October 31, the village of Atzompa holds a later cemetery vigil starting around 11 pm. Music into the night a less crowded event easily reached by taxi.

Day of the Dead November 1
Oaxaca City Cemetery, Panteon General on the east side of the city.  Offers displays and competition of traditional altars  (ofrenda)  from many ethnic regions of Oaxaca.
Tlalixtac de Cabrera, six miles southeast of Oaxaca City.  A lively celebration with brass bands, strolling guitar groups.

San Felipe del Agua, north of Oaxaca City, November 2, a family cemetery vigil easily reached by public bus or taxi.  

Village of San Antonino Castillo Velasco  A flower growing village south of the city of Oaxaca that celebrates a week after the others
Cemetery schedule, best times to visit Oaxaca area cemeteries
Day of the Dead Oaxaca Mexico
  • Day Of The Dead,  Reach the Cemeteries:  
The Day of the Dead Cemetery visit transportation is available from Oaxaca city by bus, taxi, or car.  Cemetery visits occur on October 31, November 1 and Nov. 2nd.  
  • Guided Cemetery Tours
First time visitors are best off with one of the many Oaxaca Tour Agencies such as Borroco Tours located on Garcia Vigil  (street)  They arrange small or large group van and bus tours for visitors to the villages.  They guide you in the cemetery, help you make photos, and provide local information about the event.
  • Self Guided Tour
Otherwise the best option is taxi, collective taxi, or bus to the village.  Arrange for your return or determine the loading place at the village when you arrive.  It could be difficult to find later in the evening.  
Day of the Dead Oaxaca Mexico, Cemetery Visits Transportation
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