Dia de los muertos – day of the dead in Oaxaca, Mexico

I have never dealt well with loss and death.

When I was planning my wedding two years ago, I had a hard time dealing with the fact that my grandmother, who passed away in my teen years, would not be there. Even though she had been gone for over a decade, I still missed her and considered her one of the most important people in my life. I was sad not to have her there.

I have also never dealt well with vulnerability and being open with my family, so I felt awkward incorporating her into my wedding. My husband and I had a Halloween wedding, and so the timing of our honeymoon coincided with the Day of the Dead / Dia de los Muertos celebrations in Mexico. I knew it would be healing for me to see how others dealt with loss, and going to the celebrations felt like a way of incorporating my grandmother into my wedding. I asked my husband if he would go to the Dia de los Muertos celebrations in Oaxaca for our honeymoon, and he agreed.


I had known about the Dia de los Muertos celebrations for a while from a Oaxacan anthropology professor I had in college, so I had my heart already set on the city. In my family, grief and loss (really any negative emotion or event) is swept under the rug and ignored. If someone brought up how they were still hurting from a past event, they would get ignored or the listener would pretend to not know what they were talking about. It was shocking to me to know that there were people out there, not only comfortable talking about their pain, but to be able to face it full-force. Their attitude toward death wasn’t avoidance and fear, it was a full confrontation with offerings, music, reverance, and even humor. Being in Oaxaca for the Dia de Los Muertos celebrations was not something for which I could have prepared myself. The energy and power of being in the city were indescribable and unmatched by anything else that I had ever experienced.

The celebrations started on October 31st and continued through November 2nd.

During the day, there were parades, costumes, candy thrown in the streets, day of the dead breads, and large elaborate decorations.


Later in the day, there were concerts at the church of Santo Domingo de Guzmán (featured photo), even high school students came out with their instruments to play music in the streets.


There were more and more parades.


Vendors were selling flower crowns, delicious street food, and painting faces.


Markets sprang up to showcase tapestries and contests were held for best decorations.


As the evening came and went, and the sun was well down, everyone moved from the streets and to the cemeteries. Families gathered around their loved ones’ graves and brought lawn chairs, music, and even grills to barbecue and celebrate together. Everyone brought flowers and candles to decorate graves.


Visitors from out of town were given flowers to decorate those graves who had no family left to come with flowers.



Even though I am wearing face paint here, I want to be clear that adults do not usually wear facepaint in the actual cemeteries. While you won’t be treated with hostility in Oaxaca for wearing facepaint in the cemeteries, it would be best to remove it first.

Visitors and festivities continued until 2am. At that time, all except family members exited the cemeteries. It was time to welcome the visiting spirits in a beautiful mix of emotion – celebration, love, grief, and family. It was so beautiful to see the cemetery so full of life, instead of just a place for death. They shared with me their homes, food, and culture. I am grateful to have been welcomed by one of the friendliest communities on this planet.

Being able to participate in the holiday helped me feel connected to my own loved ones that had passed. I was thankful to be able to honor their memories in what was simultaneously a communal and intimate experience.









Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s