The end of the week
brought us to our journey’s purpose – Day of the Dead. It begins on October 31
and runs through November 2. It’s a multi-day celebration that honors the people
who have crossed over to the other side. It is rooted in Mesoamerican
civilizations, going back 3,000 years. Despite the
seemingly morbid subject matter, Day of the Dead is celebrated joyfully, and
though it occurs at the same time as Halloween, All Saints' Day, and All Souls
Day, the mood of Day of the Dead is much lighter, and has an emphasis on
celebrating and honoring the lives of the deceased, rather than fearing
evil or malevolent spirits.
The days leading up to November 2 are festive as families prepare their homes and build their ofrendas to honor the dead and the markets begin to overflow with flowers, special breads and pastries, sugar skulls and Day of the Dead skeleton figures.
On the day we were in Ocotlan, we were able to spend an afternoon visiting an old and very lovely cemetery. It is an area known for growing flowers and the cemetery was overflowing with an abundance of breathtaking flowers. Families gathered quietly to weed and clean the gravesites and to be together. It was quietly festive as multiple generations of a family gathered to remember, reminisce and celebrate the lives of the living as well as the departed. Several people had guitars and songs gently wafted through the air.
I felt very honored to be able to respectfully and quietly walk among the graves to observe and take in the beauty of this truly special place.
We also visited two cemeteries at night. Families light candles and gather to wait for the souls of their loved ones to return for a visit.
The soft candle lit cemeteries were achingly
beautiful and special. It was festive, but reverential, and each cemetery had a
little bit different feeling. The cemetery in Xoxocotlan was very old and not
at all crowded, while the big Oaxaca city cemetery was very crowded with tourists
(mostly Mexican). It was interesting to see that the streets leading up to the
cemeteries were very carnival like, with food vendors, music, games and crafts
for sale. But once in the cemetery it was quiet and respectful. The
reason we had all come to Oaxaca, originally, was to experience Day of the
Dead, but we experienced so much more than any of us could have imagined.
is saying in Oaxaca, “We are not here for a
long time, we are here for a good time.” And for the 20 artist souls that gathered in late
October, we took this to heart and had a very good time.