Day of the Dead, Oaxaca, Mexico
The day of the dead, El Dia de Muertos, is a festival related, like Halloween, to the feast of “All Souls”. But you don’t have to look far to find the links to the native cultures either: the marigolds, that decorate altars all over town, and adorn the graves were used by the Aztecs to commemorate their dead; the skulls reflect those we’ve seen on the Mayan temples.
The festivities vary in mood: much is wildly festive but the vigil at the family graves can be solemn, and the tidying up and decorating of graves felt like a duty taken very seriously. It must be very difficult for Mexicans who move away from home or emigrate to be away from home at this time. We bought a bunch of flowers at the cemetery entrance and placed a flower on a few of the more neglected looking graves, so we could feel part of the more serious side of the feast too.
Back in the centre of the town brightly decorated altars commemorating family members carry special breads, chocolates, marigolds and skulls. They are lit with candles at night. Larger than life puppets stand on street corners or join parades and bizarre statues of skeletons watch over your dinner in most restaurants. Local artist have spent 5 days creating adobe pavement art: corpse brides and dog skeletons to almost fill one corner of the main square. Macabre costumed characters lung at passersby. Although the mood is light, if you do not want to be reminded you will die, perhaps in an unsavory manner or at an inconvenient time, this is not the festival for you. The good news, at least if you’re Mexican, is you can expect chocolates, sweet bread rolls, marigolds and lots of fuss at least once a year after you’re gone.