Prone to Wander

Día de Los Muertos – Oaxaca 2009

About this time of year, when the afternoon shadows start growing long, I start dreaming about wandering around in the quaint colonial towns of interior Mexico. And tonight is THE night to be there for one of the most colorful, interesting and unique Mexican holidays: Day of the Dead.

This is the first time in the last 4 years that Josh and I haven’t been in Mexico for Día de los Muertos. We’ve had the opportunity to witness the celebrations in Mexico City in 2007, Patzcuaro in 2008 (our favorite) and in Oaxaca last year (2009). If you want to visit the famous spots in interior Mexico for Day of the Dead (such as Patzcuaro), you have to reserve your hotel room sometimes up to a year in advance. Or, you can do what we did in 2008 and stay in a nearby city like Morelia, an easy hour-long bus ride away from Lake Patzcuaro and the famous Janitzio Island.

So what is it about this Mexican holiday in particular that draws us to it? Interior Mexico is, of course, always full of color, but November 1st and 2nd are absolutely unforgettable. Marigold blossoms and other bright flowers are meticulously arranged among the offerings to the dead, saturating everything you see in a bright orange gold, pink and green. At dusk, those keeping vigil in the graveyards or near the ofrendas (offerings) begin to light candles, which flicker peacefully throughout the night among the flowers and offerings to the dead. Often the plazas in the center of the larger cities are crowded, covered with displays of huge colorful offerings reminiscent of parade floats, and giant street art designs made completely out of colored sand and arranged flowers. There are often public programs, processions, dances and music.

Of course, different cities and families celebrate in very different ways – some are serious memorials to family members and friends who have passed away, and some are playful and irreverent celebrations that poke fun at death in an attempt to disarm fear. Whether it truly removes the fear of death… well, that’s a different philosophical discussion entirely… and probably one for another time. In Patzcuaro, it is definitely viewed more as serious and almost religious family affair, but it’s a beautiful visual spectacle, filled with flowers, candles and golden light. Last year we visited Oaxaca, where Day of the Dead seemed to be mixed with Halloween costumes and rich musical traditions to create more of an auditory experience. Along those lines – here are a few more videos I took of the street celebrations in Oaxaca – enjoy!

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2 comments

  1. Mark

    Hiya, this has been really useful in thinking about where I want to spend Day of the Dead on my first trip to Mexico. I had been told Morelia would be the best place but I’ve never read about them in terms of the ambience of each celebration. I love seeing the real behind the seens cultural events but for my first visit I think the more light-hearted (and more popularised) celebrations in Oaxaca is exactly what I would enjoy. Thanks for the posting your experiences!

  2. Hi Amy am really interested about your pictures of Mexico, next year we are going to make an exposition in Europe so maybe we can use one of your pictures. Take care I let you my info to get in touch. Regards Adrian Trewas

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