Day of the Dead
To non Mexicans, the Day of the Dead festivities may sound rather macabre, but nothing could be further from the truth. In fact this festival demonstrates the average Mexicans love and respect for their ancestors and dearly departed.
It all stems from the ancient indigenous peoples of Mexico, who believed that the souls of the dead return each year to visit with their living relatives - to eat, drink and be merry. The event is held in graveyards across Mexico, allowing people to commune with deceased family members, not in a somber fashion, but with a joyful sense of reunion.
Deceased children (known as little angels) are remembered on November 1st (All Saints' Day), while adults are remembered on November 2nd (All Souls' Day). During the previous week, vendors set up stalls selling sugar candies in the shape of skeletons, skulls, coffins and tombs. Families create altars in their homes, with flowers, candles, religious amulets and photographs of the dead.
Adult graves are adorned with offerings of the deceased's favorite possessions, foods, alcohol or cigarettes, and are profusely decorated with colorful flowers, particularly marigolds, which are believed to guide the spirits of loved ones home. Children's graves have toys placed upon them, and are covered with colorful streamers and balloons.
Graveyards are crowded during the event. At 6:00 PM, the bells begin to ring every 30 seconds, summoning the deceased. Entire families may stand vigil throughout the night, ensuring they will be recognized when their dearly departed arrive to partake of the feast offered them. The following day, after the spirits have had their fill, what's left is consumed as part of an elaborate picnic.
There is story telling and laughter as the departed are remembered. Children romp around the tombs, munching on sugar skeletons and skulls, while adults sample pan de los muertos (bread of the dead). Who will be the lucky one to bite into the toy plastic skeleton hidden by the baker in each loaf?
Oaxaca is a special place to visit at any time of year, but being present during this unique festival will leave you with unforgettable memories. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this celebration for the deceased is the infusion of life given to its participants.