The dead are never far away in Oaxaca — the locals believe they’re just around the corner in Mictlan, the underworld of Aztec myth. Once a year, a lively food- and dance-filled celebration spills out from the cemeteries to greet the returning spirits.
Preparations get underway at Casa de Las Bugambilias, a boutique hotel in Oaxaca City, on the eve of the Dia de Los Muertos holiday to welcome back the dead. Mariana Arroyo picks marigolds for the altar; the next day, guests gather together to honour loved ones.
A family in the village of San Lorenzo Albarradas tend to their Dia de Los Muertos altar — these are often quite beautiful creations, painstakingly constructed with great attention to detail. Sometimes they include offerings that the departed enjoyed in life.
As the week-long festival gathers momentum in Oaxaca City, a comparsa (group of singers and dancers) of devils, skeletons and other underworld characters, snakes out of Panteon General cemetery and into the streets, later joining a children’s parade in the city square.
The sound of singing and a lone guitar fills the Panteon Nuevo cemetery in the city of Santa Cruz Xoxocotlán as family and friends commune with beloved spirits. As the Mexicans say, los cielos se abren (‘the heavens open up’).
Originally published in the November 2016 issue.