From October 31 to November 2, the memory of departed loved ones is honored and death is mocked in Mexico's oldest tradition known as the “Day of the Dead.” This unique holiday is very important to Mexicans, who view death as a normal and natural part of life. During this time, spirits are believed to return to their homes to visit family and friends. To welcome them, both children and adults spend weeks preparing special foods, creating special altars in their homes, and decorating grave sites.
However, no other town in Mexico celebrates this tradition with more ritual and flair than Oaxaca. With its charming ambience and tranquil pace, Oaxaca is a city that celebrates the dead, yet is vividly alive with subtle references of its pre-Columbian traditions.
As a student of Spanish in Mexico, you can witness first hand the locals dressing up as skeletons to parade through the streets, enjoy strolling through colorful flower markets, savor sweet chocolates or candies known as “sugar skulls”, or join the many families who spend a festive night in cemeteries celebrating this special day with their departed relatives.
Spain also celebrates this day on November 1 as Dia de Todos los Santos (All Saints' Day). But contrary to how the El Dia de los Muertos is celebrated in Mexico, it is observed more solemnly and with more sorrow. Cemeteries come alive with hundreds of people visiting their loved ones, bringing flowers, candles and tidying the place to let them know they do not forget them.
On this non-working holiday, the only places that are open for business are the flower shops who earn their biggest revenue on this day alone while the bakeries oversell the typical All Saints' Day desserts: Bunuelos,a sweet dough sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar with optional cream filling; and Huesitos de Santos, a thick roll of marzipan almond paste rolled with sweet fillings.