Legend and History Days of the Dead
Legend and History, Day Of The Dead Oaxaca     
  • Traditional Flowers
The Marigold Flower is prominent during the Day of the Dead Festival in Oaxaca.
During the three-day October, November holiday the families clean  the graves and preparing the tombs for traditional return of the spirits.  During this time flowers decorate the tombs and home altars. Families leave offerings for the spirits in the home and at the cemetery, they leave paths of marigold flower petals to guide the spirits.
  • Cemetery Tours
To participate in these ancient traditions a visitor can visit the cemeteries near Oaxaca on the last night of October and the first two nights of November.  
Thousands of candles and tons marigolds and cockscomb flowers decorate the tombs. Each village celebrates on different days and with different styles of decoration, but the evenings are sure to be unique as families continue ancient traditions by visiting the graveyards to sit by the tombs and wait for the spirits to return.
The markets are full of flowers that the families will use to decorate their home altars and tombs Marigold and cockscomb are the flowers with special meaning. The marigold, the Fleur de Meurto, or  flower of death is the traditional flower used by the families.
In the evening the families decorate with this flower and sit by the tombs waiting for the return of the spirits.
In the new cemetery of Xoxoccotlan, artist Juan Cruz Pascual decorates  with a sand painting replete with Christian motifs    Xoxocotlan celebrates on the last night of October
In the town of Tlalixtac south of Oaxaca City, on the night of November first,  the families practice the ancient traditions as they sit by  the decorated tombs.
Part of the excitement of the season in Oaxaca comes when the shops in the cosmopolitan city decorate with candles and flower petals to continue the ancient traditions of honoring the spirits.
  • Traditions In Oaxaca City
The city of Oaxaca becomes an exciting place to be during the festival.  The city comes alive with music, art, museum exhibitions, and the decorating of altars in the pedestrian-only streets.  
Oaxaca's hotels and shops decorate their entry ways with the traditional altar and the restaurants feature the traditional regional cuisine of Oaxaca as they spend the last week of October preparing for Oaxaca's Day of the Dead cemetery tradition of nightly vigils.
  • Ancient Traditions
The festival is bound by tradition and history in Oaxaca.  Although Europe has a similar visiting of the grave on All Saints and All Souls day, the trappings of Oaxaca's ritual has non -Christian undertones.  
The use of skulls on the offerings, (in modern times candy skulls),  has an archaeological counterpart.  According to some archaeological reports, excavation of ancient tombs reveals skulls grouped together, disarticulated.  The skulls might have been used in ritual, removed from the tomb each year.
Tombs in ancient burials also have offerings of plant material and ceramic vessels.
The festival belongs to the indigenous people  who continue the ritual regardless of the Christian Spanish overtones.  The further one travels from the city of Oaxaca the more pagan the ceremony becomes.
Sand Painting in Xoxocotlon cemetery for the night vigil
Legend and History play important parts during Oaxaca's Day of the Dead,
Marigold flowers and Chocolate are part of the indigenous tradition as is the spreading of flower petals in a trail to the grave.  The inclusion of chocolate in the building of an altar  (ofrenda) also is part of pre-Hispanic tradition.
The extensive use of the Marigold flower, a plant called Fluer de Muerto is of ancient origin for the ceremony as is the burning of copal incense, a practice reported by the first Spanish conquerers.
According to legend and histories gathered by the early Spanish settlers in Mexico, the Day of the Dead ritual started well before the arrival of the Spanish.  Christian and Indigenous beliefs come together on the night of October 31 to create a spectacle full of ancient and modern symbols.
    History and Tradition
The ancient cities in the valley of Oaxaca reveal artifacts and room design still in use today.  
  • Ancient Legend
The building of an altar or offering table in the east facing room of the house is a custom still practiced by families today who build an east facing room and an altar used for special occasions. Ancient homes excavated show this same design.
  • Altar, Ofrenda
During the Day of the Dead ceremony, these altars are decorated with marigold flowers, chocolate, special breads, cane, and many traditional touches.  Gift are left on the alter for guests and for the spirits on their return.  
Hotels and shops in the city also build altars for the ceremony.
Oaxaca's Day Of The Dead celebration sees the  indigenous people  decorating their home altars with marigold flowers, chocolate, loaves of special bread, and candles during the last week of October.  
  • Cemetery Tradition
The families then gather on the last day of October to go to the cemetery where they decorate their tombs. They welcome visitors who come to the cemetery as they sit by the graveside in a night vigil of waiting for the return of the spirits.
  • Traditional Flowers
Marigold is the traditional flower used on the Day of the Dead in Oaxaca and throughout Mexico.  
In the remote villages, the people use a wild version of the Marigold.  
The small wild version flowers nearly year round and is plentiful in the fields in October.  

In Oaxaca, the indigenous people call the flower Cempasuchitl in the Nahuatl language (Aztec)
The Spanish name for the flower, flor de muerto, means flower of death.
Day of the Dead, Atzompa Cemetery, Oaxaca, Mexico, October 31
In the city and more affluent towns, tons of domesticated and cultivated marigold flowers decorate the graveyards.  The people go to the cemetery at night and  hold a cemetery vigil by candlelight at the decorated tombs. Atzompa October 31
  • Wild Marigold, Traditional Flower
The people of remote villages, having meager means to buy the cultivated Marigold, will harvest the wild plant and use it to construct their offerings.  (Ofrenda, an altar of sorts with gifts for the dead)  

The Family will gather to remove the petals from the flower and spread them on the ground to make a path to the house and to the grave.  The pungent aroma of the marigold and the bright color of the yellow petals will guide the spirit to the home altar and to the cemetery.  
Day of the Dead at  Atzompa Cemetery, Oaxaca, Mexico on  October 31
A candle  for  Susan, Atzompa . October 31
The cemetery of Xoxocotlan celebrates on the night of October 31.   Atzompa Oct. 31
Oaxaca's Day of the Dead involves legend and history including the use of marigold flowers and chocolate during the festival. The spreading of flower petals to the grave and the use of chocolate in the building of an offering have pre-Hispanic roots.   
Traditional Sand Painting in Xoxocotlan cemetery for the night vigil  
The tradition today is to decorate the tomb with flowers and candles on the last night of October

Traditional Sand Painting

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