Day of the Dead in Oaxaca

Day of the Dead in Oaxaca

Día de Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a popular Mexican holiday, and Oaxaca holds one of the largest Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico. The holiday centers around gathering family and friends in remembrance of loved ones who have passed away. People gather to honor the deceased, support them in their journey to the afterlife, and encourage them to visit the land of the living for a night.

Although customs vary from place to place, Day of the Day Dead in Oaxaca takes place between October 31st and November 2nd. The city bursts into a giant festival. People spend months preparing for the massive celebration that attracts people from around the world. There are several important traditions that make Day of the Dead in Oaxaca so special.


Friends, families and individuals create ornate altars to honor loved ones. Altars are typically constructed at gravesites, but may be built in homes and even for altar contests. People use a special flower called cempasúchil (Mexican marigold) to decorate altars. The flower is meant to help guide spirits between the land of the living and the land of the dead. Sugar skulls and calacas (dressed skeletons) are a common sight on altars, as are other ofrendas. These may include a person’s favorite food, beverage (often mezcal), photos, or clothing item.

Calendas and Street Fiestas

Throughout all times of the year one can see calendas in Oaxaca, which are street parades with giant puppets on stilts, live music, dancing and fireworks. During Día de Muertos, however, they reach a new level. Swarms of people come out to the streets to join massive parades in celebration of the holiday. People hold a variety of processions and parties in different neighborhoods around the city. Streetside stands paint faces and sell food, drinks, and crafts, while children “trick-or-treat” around town.

Gathering at Cemeteries

People gather at grave sites during the nights of Day of the Dead to hold graveside vigils. During, they will tell stories of loved ones or pray for them. Relatives or friends spend time in advance decorating grave sites or creating altars.

Other traditions include the creation of sand tapestries, making and eating pan de muerto (a type of sweet bread), and more.

Go See For Yourself

Because Day of the Dead in Oaxaca has become such an iconic celebration, it is important to plan well in advance if you want to go. Although the Day of the Dead celebration attracts tourists from all over, it is important to remember and respect the deep historical and religious traditions the festivities are founded on.

The Educational Adventures Company will be offering a special Day of the Dead tour in October/November 2019. The tour gives adventurers unique, hands-on opportunities to experience the holiday. You can see everything the trip has to offer here.

Julia Nass

Julia is an avid traveler and has lived in Oaxaca, Mexico and Havana, Cuba. She balances her constant pursuit of adventure with her love of sharing it with others.


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