Based on the belief that each November the souls of the dead return to earth to visit their families, Dia de Muertos is one of the most important festivals of the year. The procession of souls begins on the 1st of November with ‘Dia de los Angelitos’, when the souls of children return and continues on the 2nd, ‘Dia de los Muertos’, when the souls of adults make their journey.
Families often start their preparations weeks earlier, preparing food and gathering ofrendas (offerings) for the traditional altars that are used to both guide and welcome the souls home. Found in homes, business, schools and cemeteries the altars include photos and offerings such as food (pan de muertos, mole, fruit and chocolate), mezcal, skulls, candles and flowers – Marigolds or Cempasuchil are most common, brilliant oranges, yellows and purples.
During this time it’s customary for families to visit the cemeteries to clean and decorate the graves and often they will spend the night there remembering the lives of those that have died. While sometimes solemn, it is a celebration of life that will often include food, drinks and music.
One of the best places to experience this is the town of Xoxocotlan, just outside of Oaxaca. There are two cemeteries in Xoxo (pronounced Hoho) – a small, older one with a more solemn feel, and the large, main cemetery. Both are worth a visit but you’ll find the biggest celebrations in the main cemetery.
To find out what is happening each day check our events pages. Here are a few of the highlights:
30 October – 2 November
* The San Pablo Cultural Centre will be holding an exhibition of traditional altars or ‘altares de muertos’.
* Exhibition of Pan de Muerto from different regions of the state on Macedonio Alcalá.
* Day of the Dead costume competition for pets. 5pm outside the Jalatlaco church.
* This is the night to visit the cemeteries in Xoxocotlan.
* Dress up your pet in a Day of the Dead costume and take a photo at the Centro Fotográfico Manuel Álvarez Bravo. From 6pm, by donation. All proceeds go to charity.
* Procession of the Virgin of the Rosary, 8pm in the historical centre.
* Day of the Dead Chinese paper lanterns. These lanterns will be launched at 9pm in the town of Soledad Etla.
Saturday 31st, Sunday 1st & Monday 2nd
* Make sure you visit the Pantheon de San Miguel to see the exhibition of traditional altars (there’s a competition for the best one), the illumination of the tombs with over 2000 candles, and to try some of the delicious pan de muertos and hot chocolate. The pantheon is open from 10am until midnight and the candles will be lit from 8pm onwards. Theatrical group Lola Bravo will be offering free tours of the tombs at 5pm, 6pm, 7pm, 8pm.
* 12pm: ‘Copijcha. Sun of the Underworld. An anthology of the Day of the Dead in San Bartolo Coyotepec’ at Teatro Macedonio Alcalá.
* 6pm: ‘Catrina’ – a theatrical spectacular. 6pm at Teatro Álvaro Carrillo.
* 8pm Traditional Day of the Dead parade in Jalatlaco.
* 5-8pm Traditional Day of the Dead parades through the centre of town.
The city centre is filled with altars and other decorations so make sure you spend some time just wandering around exploring. These events are just the official ones – there will be many other parades and events too. If you want to head outside of the city there are many options. We’ve collected a lot of the regional information here.
See the poster below for the full list of events and don’t forget to check out events calendar for the complete guide to what’s happening in Oaxaca.