The Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos) celebrations in Oaxaca are a wonder to behold, and an absolute blast to participate in. The celebrations are deeply rooted in indigenous traditions, and while the holiday is celebrated all over Mexico, it is particularly strong in Oaxaca, which has the largest indigenous population in the entire country.
Día de los Muertos highlights the unique relationship Mexicans have with death and their ancestors. Between October 31st and November 2nd (although festivities tend to start earlier and extend beyond the 2nd), it is believed that the souls of the departed return to visit their families.
You can expect to see altars dedicated to ancestors in homes and places of business, laden with photos, candles, and marigolds (referred to as flor de muerto – or flower of death), as well as food, drinks and other treats favored by the dearly departed, such as candy, mezcal and cigarettes. Gravesites are cleaned up and decorated, and families spend entire nights in the cemeteries, eating, drinking, and reveling with their deceased loved ones. In some towns, nightlong parades wind through the streets in a cacophony of sound and ghoulish costumes, with the intent of scaring off spirits that may seek to do harm.
If you get a chance to visit Oaxaca during this time, you'll get to participate on the beautiful traditions and witness the unique colors, smells, and sounds of the Muertos experience. Until then, enjoy these glimpses into this beautiful and magical tradition.