by Ron McGinty
Oaxaca, Mexico is an epic center of “Día de los Muertos” (Day of the Dead). It is a celebration of the living in honor of family and friends who have passed. They believe when someone we love is in Heaven, there is a little bit of Heaven in our home. The festivities are a marriage of Christianity and pre-Hispanic traditions. Merriments span several days with parades, costumes, painted faces and a sense of contagious bliss. While the street parties rage on,
the cemeteries are bursting with relatives decorating the graves of their loved ones.
Some of the graves take hours to decorate with candles and flowers. The cheerfulness is dissimilar to Mardi Gras in my home town of New Orleans because it does not center around alcohol, but of reverence and love. Children are out of school for several days and most emerge with hand painted faces.
Everyone is welcomed into the cemeteries to join families while relatives prepare for reunions. One lady I met, who had recently lost her husband a few months ago was sitting with friends to honor him. The wife told stories, his favorite jokes and made it sound equivalent to him sitting with us. This tradition shares the glee of their relationships without self pity. There was an enthusiastic invite for strangers to interact inside every family’s private area. Truly a unique experience and not one to easily forget.
There are several large markets in the city selling flowers, candles, face paint and food for the week. You see ladies chatting about details and how many people to plan for. Food stations are in abundance with tacos, roasted chicken, and yes, funnel cakes for waiting customers. My travels always include my favorite pastime, a walk by myself through new towns. Consequently, I took a two-mile stroll from a cemetery back to my hotel. Unquestionably an eye-opener, there was rarely a home not decorated. Getting closer to town I walked through the food district made up of old homes converted into a very diverse group of restaurants.
The clientele looked to be young, ages mid 20’s to late 30’s, obviously a vibrant part of town. Templo de Santo Domingo de Guzmán is the city’s primary church attached to a historical monastery which is now a museum.
If you miss anything, do not miss this ancient treasure. The cathedral is hand made with intricate detailing in gold and silver on the walls and ceilings. You could envision the echoes resounding down the halls from the chanting clergy. Give yourself enough time to see every floor and experience the views from the terraces.
The state of Oaxaca is one of thirty-one states making up the country of Mexico. The city of Oaxaca is over 5,500 feet above sea level. They recognize the cultures of fifteen distinct indigenous peoples including the Olmecs, Zapotecs and Mixtec people. The inhabitants of Oaxaca date back over 3,000 years. Around the year 500 BC, the Zapotecs population moved to the mountain area where the Monte Alban massive site was built. The ruins of Monte Alban can still be visited today. Oaxaca is out of the drug cartels path and is considered a very safe travel destination. A bucket list city for sure.