Oaxaca Day of the Dead, History, Oaxaca, South Central Mexico
The Day of the Dead Festival in Oaxaca is a three-day November holiday when families clean the graves and prepare the tombs for the return of the spirits. During tombs and home altars. Families leave offerings for the spirits in the home and at the cemetery, they leave paths of flower petals to guide the spirits.
The cemeteries are special places during the nights of October 31 and November first because of the thousands of candles and the marigolds and cockscomb flowers that decorate the tombs. Each village celebrates at different times and with different intensity but the evenings are sure to be unique as families come to the graveyards to sit by the tombs and wait for the spirits to return.
The placing of skulls on the altars and the use of marigolds hints at the pre-Hispanic origin for the ceremony as does the burning of copal incense, a practiced reported by the first Spanish conquerers.
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 most significant. 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 XoXo Cotlon, artist Juan Cruz Pascual decorates with a sand painting replete with Christian motifs
In the town of Tlalixtac south of Oaxaca City the families sit by the decorated tombs while brass bands move through the cemetery
Part of the excitement of the season in Oaxaca comes when the shops in the cosmopolitan city decorate with candles and flower petals in an unspoken competition of artistic display
Tracing the indigenous roots of the Day of the Dead festival in Oaxaca is difficult.. The use of Marigold flowers and the spreading of flower petals in a trail to the grave and the inclusion of chocolate in the building of an altar (ofrenda) does more than hint at a pre-Hispanic origin for the custom, however, since chocolate is a new world plant and spreading flowers before the feet of the Aztec emperors was a common pre-Hispanic ritual
Oaxaca's Day Of The Dead celebration is a time for the indigenous people to decorate their home altars with marigold flowers, chocolate, loaves of special bread, and candles and then on the last day of October, go to the cemetery to 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.
Oaxaca City becomes an exciting place to be during the festival with music, Oaxacan art, museum exhibitions, and the decorating of altars in the streets, Oaxaca's hotels and shops decorate their entry ways and the restaurants feature the regional cuisine of Oaxaca as they spend the last week of October preparing for Oaxaca's Day of the Dead.
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 though candy skulls has an archaeological counterpart where discoveries of tombs reveal skulls grouped together disarticulated. Tombs in ancient burials also have offerings of plant material and ceramic vessels.
The festival belongs to the indigenous people after all, they continue the ritual regardless of the Christian Spanish overtones and the further one travels from the city of Oaxaca the more pagan the ceremony becomes.
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How to Get There
From the Zocalo go north to the Llano Park and the theatre building at 703, the office is on the right side of the building.
Oaxaca Day of the Dead, History in Oaxaca, South Central Mexico comes alive when the people of Oaxaca decorate the tombs with candles and flowers and hold all night cemetery vigils.