Oaxaca has a magical quality year-round, but it is especially potent during the annual Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebrations. From October 31st- November 2nd, it is believed that the souls of the departed return to visit their loved ones. The living honor this time with offerings, family gatherings, music, costume, dance, art, and festivals. It is a beautiful recognition of the cycle of life and death, and is rooted in indigenous tradition.
One of the quintessential offerings of the holiday is the cempasúchil (marigold) flower, known as the "Flower of Death." In the days leading up to the holiday, the streets are filled with trucks filled with them, and they are found everywhere - majestically lining doorways, spread across altars, in planters, on gravesites, hanging from strings across pathways and walls. These golden orange blossoms are believed to guide wandering souls to back to the living, and also to their place of rest.
Artistic expression abounds during this time, with street murals, captivating face painting, costumes, and sidewalk art installations. It's truly a remarkable feast for the eyes!
At home, families create elaborate altars layered with offerings for the dead. This includes photos of loved ones that have passed on, flowers, candles, sentimental objects, small gifts, and food. There is a special sweet bread called pan de muerto, often decorated with dough-made bones and skulls, and garnished with anise seeds. Copal incense (made from the resin of a sacred tree) is burned, its purifying smoke believed to carry praise and prayers to the dead.
Gravesites are also adorned with marigolds, candles, and offerings. Families will spend the whole night together in the cemetery, celebrating their deceased loved ones. Recent deaths are of course mourned, but overall there is no sadness or fear.
The beauty and magic of this special time offers a unique perspective on death and a chance to feel the connection with the ancestors we never met, and the people we've loved and lost in this life. It evokes life-affirming joy, gratitude, and a sense of grounding within the realms between time and space.