' The MZ Blog – Oaxaca

The MZ Blog

Celebrating Christmas - the Zapotec Way!

Celebrating Christmas - the Zapotec Way!

While many people the world over celebrate Christmas, the traditions vary from place to place. With the holiday season in full swing, we’ve enjoyed learning about the traditions that are unique to the Zapotec communities of Oaxaca. We chatted with MZ artisans Jose Luis and Maria Luisa Santiago to learn more about how their family celebrates the holiday.

Similarly to the US, in Teotitlan del Valle (where the majority of the large Santiago family lives), Christmas is a religious holiday for some, and more of a cultural tradition for others. Jose Luis explained, “Some families fast on Christmas Eve, and then come together to break the fast on Christmas morning. While many go to church, others don’t because it isn’t important to them.”

The Zapotec people primarily practice a unique sort of Catholicism that is infused with their indigenous beliefs. An example of this would be the tradition of pedimentos - or petitions - that sees individuals and families bringing objects or figurines to the church to petition God for their wishes granted. “People will bring small houses if they want a new home, or little animals to ask for more chickens or sheep. Lot of people bring tiny dolls as a way of asking God to give them a family,” said Maria Luisa.

Another Christmas tradition in the village are the posadas - or holiday parties - that begin in early December.  These large parties are typically hosted by a family who opens their home to the entire town! Posadas are celebrations to commemorate the Virgin Mary, and the birth of Christ. Children with candles sing a song that tell the biblical story of Mary and Joseph seeking shelter for the birth of their child. These festivities are filled with food (enough to feed the village), atole (a hot beverage made of corn and spices), Christmas piñatas made with seven spikes to represent the seven deadly sins, games to play, and lots of noisy fireworks.

The Santiago family has their own way of celebrating that is unique to their family. On Christmas Eve everyone gets together at one of their houses; they take turns hosting each year. Each family brings a dish to contribute to the potluck-style feast. 

Maria Luisa described the Christmas Eve meal: “For dinner we make guajolote, which is like a turkey but a little bit smaller. We have the traditional drink called ponche, which is hot punch made with apples, guavas, hibiscus, cinnamon and natural sugar. And of course we have mezcal, it wouldn’t be a celebration without the mezcal! It is a very joyous party for everyone because all of the family comes together. There is not necessarily a gift exchange, what is more important is that we are all together. We dance, sing, and eat!”

We love the emphasis on togetherness that Maria Luisa describes, and getting to learn about the distinct celebrations for a familiar holiday. What are some of your favorite holiday traditions?

¡Feliz Navidad!

Day of the Dead in Oaxaca

Day of the Dead in Oaxaca

The celebration of Día De Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is magical time here in Oaxaca. It's a holiday that draws from the local indigenous tradition and is a time to honor and remembering one's ancestors, when the souls of the departed come back to visit the living. Weeks before the actual holiday, which is primarily celebrated between October 31st and November 2nd, you can see the city changing. The markets are filled with cempasúchil flowers (marigolds), which are used to help guide the dead back to the living, pan de muerto (special sweet bread), sugar skulls, colorful paper streamers called papel picado and countless other traditional decorations and offerings for the dead. While the holiday is celebrated throughout Mexico, Oaxaca boasts the biggest and most traditional festivities. While Día De Los Muertos centers around the dead, it is not scary or sad, but rather a beautiful communal celebration that commemorates life and death.

In almost every home you will find altars laden with ofrendas (offerings) for the souls of the departed that are believed to come back to visit during this time. Ofrendas could be flowers, pan de muertos (sweet bread), small gifts, favorite dishes and beverages of the deceased, sugar skulls, candles, and the local sacred incense called copal

Families go to the cemeteries to clean and decorate their ancestors' graves with the same sorts of offerings. They spend entire nights there with their loved ones, both the living and the dead, remembering, sometimes mourning, but more often sharing stories, eating, drinking, and playing music.

Oaxaca city, as well as the surrounding towns, have many street parades known as calendas with fireworks, face painting, dancers, puppets, music and costumes. There are lots of feasts and parties and an overall sense of magic and playfulness throughout the city.

While Día de los Muertos decorations can look distinctly Catholic, with lots of religious iconography and crosses, the beliefs predate colonization, with its roots in Zapotec culture and spirituality.  Día de los Muertos is a representation of how indigenous traditions and catholicism have melded together. 

This magical holiday is not only about bright and colorful festivities but about the connection of the living with the dead. It's a beautiful way to honor your ancestors while spending time with your loved ones. If you ever have the chance to come to Oaxaca for this unique celebration we couldn't recommend it more! 

Oaxaca Travel Guide: Top 10 Cafés

Oaxaca Travel Guide: Top 10 Cafés

Oaxaca may be known for its incredible cuisine, but its coffee culture has developed exponentially in the past decade, and the small city now boasts plenty of great spots to get your caffeine fix. When traveling to a new destination, having a peaceful place to relax and refuel is key ... but with so many options, how does one choose?  From quick corner cafes, to full-blown brunch spots, we've scouted our favorite places to enjoy a cup and savor the moment.

Best Pour Overs: Jaguar Yuu

Coffee snobs rejoice, Jaguar Yuu really knows their stuff. Enjoy a Chemex pour-over while learning about the local coffee industry, bean to cup!  If you're hungry, their breakfast and lunch menu won't disappoint. 

Best French Press: Cafeto & Baristas

A cozy and chill locale to share a french press with a friend, or with a good book. Don't forget to order the banana bread!

Best Workspace: Café Brújula

Cafe Brújula is a Oaxacan staple. With many locations, it’s a convenient and consistently good spot to grab a beverage, tap into the WiFi, and stay a while! Note: like most spots in Oaxaca, WiFi speeds vary.

Late Night Hang: Cafébre

With its central location and generous hours (open 'til 11 PM!), this is our favorite spot for a late night (and alcohol-free) meet up! 

Best Baked Goods: Boulenc 

Boulenc has quickly caught some major buzz for having the best bread and baked goods in Oaxaca. Enjoy a long lunch at their sit-down restaurant that boasts a great vibe and menu, or grab something to go at the connected cafe. 

Best Brunch: Chepiche Café

Chepiche has a seriously impressive brunch menu, with inspired takes on traditional dishes and non-traditional breakfast items made with local ingredients, such as their blue corn cakes with house-made blackberry jam. Spend the morning in their peaceful courtyard and dig in! 

Best Quick Breakfast: Muss Café

One of the best spots in Oaxaca to get your avocado toast fix, or a chocolate croissant paired with a great Americano. As it's located inside a boutique hotel, you can enjoy your quick bite in its lovely courtyard. 

Best Non-Caffeine Beverage: Mondo Café

This small and airy café is known for its lovely lavender lemonade, but their latte isn't half bad either. Make sure you get a punch card if you're staying in Oaxaca for a while, you'll want to come back!

Best Latte: Café El Volador

El Volador is located in one of the most picturesque squares in Oaxaca. Order a macadamia nut milk latte, sit outside and people-watch for awhile.

Best Hot Chocolate: Café Caracol Púrpura

This cafe is tucked away from the main center of town, but its authentic Oaxacan hot chocolate makes Café Caracol Púrpura a worthy destination. In addition to the best cacao beverage, they have lots of coffee options, plus small goods for purchase, and great vibes. 


Were there any spots that we missed? We'd love to hear about your favorite cafés, and why!