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June 18, 2017 /

Oaxacan Celebrations

Although the timing of our recent stay in Oaxaca didn’t coincide with any of the large festivals that city is famous for, there was no lack of celebratory events. And, lucky for us, many of these festivities took place in public so we could experience the magic, color, music, and joy of an Oaxacan celebration.

We had no idea what this parade was for, but we were happy to join in!

Whether it was a wedding, graduation, quinceanera, or a religious celebration of unknown (to us) origin, the cobblestone streets were often filled with revelry and processions. What I especially liked about these celebrations is that they weren’t arranged by the chamber of commerce or designed to entertain tourists. Instead, they were authentic and steeped in ritual. That we were there to witness the festivities was fine, but the celebration was for the invited guests, the citizens of Oaxaca, and for those who roots run deep in its culture and traditions.

Many of Oaxaca’s festivals trace their origin to indigenous rituals that were later combined with Catholicism, brought to the region by Spanish conquistadores. One such holiday, Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), is celebrated on the same day as All Saints Day (November 1st) and All Souls Day (November 2nd). Unlike the solemn rituals surrounding these Catholic holidays, Dia de los Muertos is marked with festivals, parades, and celebrations. The holiday and its rituals recognize death as a natural part of the human experience. The departed are seen as part of the community and on these days, they are awakened from their eternal sleep to share celebrations with their loved ones.

During the Day of the Dead celebrations, this cemetery will be filled with people and flowers.

Other festivals that are tempting us for a return visit include the huge Fiesta Guelaguetza, held in July, and the many festivals surrounding the Christmas season including Noche de Rabanos (Night of the Radishes), which brings people from all over the valley into the city center to display their homegrown radishes that have been carved into imaginative sculptures .

Whether they are remembering their departed loved ones, marking a religious holiday, or observing part of their ancient culture, the people of Oaxaca are creative and artistic, exuberant and friendly. They know how to celebrate and, best of all, we are all welcome to join in.



Leave a Comment
  1. cindy knoke / Jun 18 2017 4:13 pm

    Such beautiful colors!

  2. agshap / Jun 18 2017 5:28 pm

    So looking forward to retiring, only 9 work days left….gorgeous place. Enjoy…I am right behind you.

  3. Ron Walker / Jun 18 2017 5:49 pm

    The wonderful colors and artistry that went into the costumes and other things of the celebration. I be that was breath taking in person.

    • / Jun 19 2017 5:48 am

      I can’t help but equate the colors and creativity we saw everywhere with the friendliness of the people and their zest for life.

  4. Donna / Jun 18 2017 7:36 pm

    I love seeing travel through your eyes, Janis. Whether it be a local street market, a Rockabilly Festival in Las Vegas, or the Oaxacan Celebrations described above, you show such respect, cultural engagement, curiosity, appreciation, and kindness….it is incredibly inspiring to read. Your photos selected went perfectly with your words! Thank you for sharing this.

    • / Jun 19 2017 5:51 am

      What a nice comment… thank you! We are really enjoying this phase of our lives (as I know you are too). We won’t be able to travel forever, but it’s a big, wonderful world out there, and we’d like to see as much of it as we can.

  5. Debra / Jun 18 2017 8:15 pm

    The colors are captivating and so beautiful! The intention and meaning of the festivals and ceremonies are wonderful to observe. Lovely photos!

    • / Jun 19 2017 5:56 am

      We wished that our Spanish was better (we are working on it) so we could have better understood the history of many of the celebrations. Fortunately, our lack of context didn’t dampen our enjoyment of the festivities.

  6. Gabe Burkhardt / Jun 19 2017 4:05 am

    What a fun retreat Janis! You could poke out to enjoy the seemingly spontaneous festivities, take in the color and the smiles, but also return to that beautiful cozy garden we saw in your previous post.

    • / Jun 19 2017 6:02 am

      You are so right! I loved the vibrant center city area, but it was nice to be able to retreat and recharge our batteries in such a peaceful oasis.

  7. Keith / Jun 19 2017 4:52 am

    Janis, knowing how to celebrate is an underappreciated art. Thanks for sharing the fun. Keith

  8. Still the Lucky Few / Jun 19 2017 5:18 am

    This reminds me of a long ago Christmas I had in Bara de Navidad. I became part of a wonderful local pinata celebration. I’ll never forget it!

  9. Parkit / Jun 19 2017 5:55 am

    I love their wood carvings.

    • / Jun 19 2017 6:08 am

      Are you referring to the Alebrijes? I love them too… and will share some pictures in a future post.

      • Parkit / Jun 19 2017 6:10 am

        Yes! We have a few.

        • / Jun 19 2017 6:19 am

          We do too. I’m glad to know that you held on to them even as you pared down your possessions before your great adventure.

  10. Kate Crimmins / Jun 19 2017 6:21 am

    A celebration for radishes? These are party people!

    • / Jun 19 2017 6:44 am

      Isn’t that funny?! I couldn’t find much information about the celebration, but it’s supposed to be a lot of fun. I mean, radishes? What’s not fun about radishes?

  11. Ally Bean / Jun 19 2017 7:10 am

    You have to go back for the Night of the Radishes. You can dress like Luna Lovegood in the Harry Potter books! She wore radish earrings, you know? And you can take lots of pics, too. Such a cool place that you visited.

    • / Jun 19 2017 7:31 am

      We would love to go back for the fiestas in December. I don’t remember Luna’s radish earrings, but maybe I’ll have to get a pair for myself before I head back to Oaxaca. You can bet that I’ll take a ton of pictures!

  12. globalhousesitterX2 / Jun 19 2017 7:34 am

    The dresses are so beautiful. So cheerful. Very similar to the Spanish isn’t it!

    • / Jun 19 2017 7:54 am

      They certainly have a lot in common. Much of the embroidery was exquisite, and mostly hand done.

      • globalhousesitterX2 / Jun 19 2017 7:57 am

        I always feel that women who make these things are so underpaid. Though all handmade clothing like knitting you could never get paid for the hours worked on a garment. Enjoyed the photos 🙂

  13. laura bruno lilly / Jun 19 2017 1:21 pm

    What fun to stumble on such authentic activity whilst (that word seems to sound better in this context) walking around town!

    • / Jun 19 2017 3:48 pm

      It was hard to avoid celebrations at times 🙂 . We also “stumbled” on a performance of the Oaxacan Symphony with a opera singer, and multiple dances while hanging out in the Zocalo (center square).

  14. Liesbet / Jun 19 2017 3:05 pm

    Celebrations in Mexico are so vibrant. They are colorful and festive and joyful (and loud). 🙂 I’m glad you stumbled across, or shall I say into, some festivities, Janis. The Day of the Dead sounds intriguing as well. We have never been during that massive celebration, but right after, when many decorations were still up. When are you going back to Oaxaca? 🙂

    • / Jun 19 2017 3:50 pm

      We are ready to go anytime! We have talked about traveling back for the Day of the Dead this year or next. It can be hard to find lodging around that holiday so we’ll have to see if we are too late this year.

  15. Ann Coleman / Jun 19 2017 5:08 pm

    What wonderful celebrations! And how nice that they allowed you to join in…that’s the best way to experience another culture.

    • / Jun 19 2017 5:23 pm

      You just sort of get swept up in the festivities. Although I would never insert myself into a private wedding, it was fun to watch the bride and groom, invited guests, and huge puppets from a distance.

  16. Terri Webster Schrandt / Jun 19 2017 8:28 pm

    Your photos and words are very inspiring! Seems like a wonderful place and great, free entertainment!

    • / Jun 20 2017 1:35 pm

      You might consider a visit to Oaxaca the next time you head south. The state of Oaxaca even has some lovely beaches (so we heard), but we decided to stay in the central area.

  17. Green Global Trek / Jun 20 2017 3:54 am

    Beautiful photos and accompanying explanations. This is a part of Mexico we have yet to explore.


  18. Joanne Sisco / Jun 20 2017 1:29 pm

    oooo – I’m so glad you included a photo from a cemetery! It’s beautiful!

  19. rangewriter / Jun 21 2017 3:07 pm

    Yes, it seems our friends in the southern hemisphere really do embrace joy and color, even when their lives seem so much poorer and more difficult than our own. I noticed the same thing when I visited Peru and Ecuador. I love this: “What I especially liked about these celebrations is that they weren’t arranged by the chamber of commerce or designed to entertain tourists. Instead, they were authentic and steeped in ritual.” That is a brilliant observation.

    • / Jun 21 2017 5:00 pm

      For whatever reason, I am drawn to Latin cultures. I’ve never been to Peru or Ecuador (both on my list), but we’ve enjoyed many trips to different parts of Mexico and, in early 2015, Cuba.I really love the color, music, and art that seemed to be everywhere. Unfortunately, poverty existed there too.

  20. karen207 / Jun 21 2017 4:33 pm

    Your photos and text definitely make me want to be there, Janis. I’m embarrassed to admit that I’d never even heard of Oaxaca, but the celebrations and your earlier post about the markets makes it sound like a wonderful, almost idyllic, place.

    • / Jun 21 2017 4:52 pm

      I remembered that my parents had traveled there long ago, but Oaxaca really began to come on to our radar after hearing from several friends – separately – how much they enjoyed visiting. Then, as these things happen, I started to meet more and more people who had gone there, many multiple times. We figured that we needed to check it our for ourselves.

  21. agnesstramp / Jun 22 2017 11:48 am

    This really seems like an awesome festival! I would love to attend it one day!

  22. overthehillontheyellowbrickroad / Jul 23 2017 5:50 am

    .I loved reading about the actual meaning of Dia de las Muertas. Very comforting concept and something I think about often.

    • / Aug 9 2017 4:21 pm

      It seems to be a much better way to deal with death than many of the “modern” rituals we have. Rather than gloomy and scary, it’s joyful and uplifting. Thank you for your comment!

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