el día de muertos

Photo by    Hali Tauxe

Photo by Hali Tauxe

The celebration of El Día de Muertos (the Day of the Dead) in Oaxaca is a popular ceremony that calls upon the spirits of the ancestors so they can visit and celebrate with their living family members. Families build altars for their families and leave foods, like mole negro, chocolate, breads specially made for the season, sweets, tamales, pumpkins, etc. for their loved ones who will return and the cemeteries are filled with decoration and candles. Additionally, there are many “comparas” (costumed parades) through neighborhoods to celebrate with mezcal, music, food and fireworks. The celebrations start near the end of October and run through the beginning of November, with the two most important days being the the 1st and 2nd of November.

La guelaguetza


The word, Guelaguetza, comes from a Zapotec word that means cooperation, and the festival is a cooperation and coming together of the various dance and musical traditions of Oaxaca of its eight distinctive regions: La Costa, Cañada, Papaloapan, Mixteca, Sierra Sur, Sierra Norte, Valles Centrales, and Istmo. The celebration starts on the third Monday in July, and ends on the forth Monday. While the main celebration is in Oaxaca city, other surrounding communities hold similar versions of these events including protest versions of the event led by the teachers union. The city celebrates with many calendas (parades), festivals, food, fireworks and more.

While these are the two biggest festivals, Oaxaca has many interesting traditions and no shortage of reasons to celebrate throughout the year. During both of these events, there are many visitors (both Mexican visitors as well as foreign ones) to the city. For those who do not enjoy large crowds, we recommend coming at a different time during the year when there are less visitors and you can take in all the rest that Oaxaca has to offer (which is more than enough!).

Other special celebrations that happen throughout the year in Oaxaca, include things like film & documentary festival, book fairs, opera, theater, art openings, religious and secular celebrations, weddings, mezcal and food festivals, etc.