Saturday, November 19, 2016

Day of the Dead

Despite the name, this Mexican holiday occupies at least a week, considering all of the preparation. Stores, restaurants and homes put up paper cut-outs and skeleton-themed decorations. Families clean and decorate the graves of their loved ones. Special breads are baked. Temporary altars are assembled and adorned with candles, favorite foods of the deceased, photos, and marigolds...lots and lots of marigolds. We were told that Día de Muertos is the biggest holiday of the year, at least in Oaxaca.

On the night of October 31/November 1, we watched street celebrations before joining the thousands of families and tourists visiting cemeteries. Hundreds of vendors lined the streets leading to the cemeteries and many were having meals there (street food is a real thing in Oaxaca).

In contrast to the carnival atmosphere on the streets, the insides of the cemeteries were mostly calm and dark except for the myriad candles on the graves (although one large cemetery had a rock band at the entrance). Some of the families seemed cheerful and some somber. We'd been told that the occasion is generally a celebration of the imagined return of the loved ones, rather than a time for grief. In any case I was moved by the beauty and emotion of the graveyards. Graves from the most elaborate to the most humble were decorated.

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