Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is a time when people of Mexican heritage honor the memory of those who have passed before them with a grand feast and colorful celebration. The Day of the Dead Festival in the Mexican town of Oaxaca, occurs annually between 31 October and 2 November. This inspiring expression of respect for the dead, and simultaneous celebration of life, unifies the religious traditions of the land's native people and the Christians who settled the region later.
The roots of this holiday reach back to ancient Aztecs and their celebration to honor Mctecacihuatl, the goddess who rules the underworld. These indigenous people believed she was an infant when she was sacrificed and depict her as skeleton with the jaw open. To them, death signified a rebirth and skulls represented the departed soul's achievement of higher consciousness.
It all begins with the Plaza de los Muertos in the city market. Vendors offer everything celebrants need to build the altars believed to beckon the spirits to visit. Items for sale include traditional foods, many different types of flowers, local chocolates, oil lamps, and yellow and white beeswax candles. Male members of each family traditionally build the altars.
On 31 October, female family members prepare a variety of traditional dishes as offerings to place on the altars. Pumpkin with black sugar, Oaxacan mole, local fruits, and pan de muerto, a special bread, are among the tasty dishes intended to nourish the souls after their long journey home. In addition to the feast, family members leave offerings of marigolds, sugar skulls, and the deceased\'s most cherished possessions.
1 November is called the Day of the Little Angels because this is when the Mexican people believe the souls of infants and children return home. They prepare their altars with offerings of toys and candy to welcome the spirits and provide nourishment for the souls as they journey back to the underworld. The following day is dedicated to the adult with offerings consisting of tequila, larger candy skulls, and spicier foods to appeal to these older spirits.
Many families build altars in the local churches and cemeteries. A popular activity with visitors is to seek out cemeteries where they can view these unique works of art. After dark, the atmosphere becomes quite festive with mariachi bands playing among the candlelit altars.
Many tour operators run tours to Day of the Dead where participants can attend mask and altar making workshops. They have a chance to wear their masks when they participate in one of the many comparsas, or parades, featuring costumed and masked dancers and music. Other highlights of some tour include visits to several culturally significant sites, including Santa Domingo Church, Monte Alban, and Arrazola.