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.

Author: Janis @ RetirementallyChallenged.com

My blog is about travel, relationships, photography, and whatever else pops into my head (even, sometimes, issues surrounding retirement and aging).

50 thoughts on “Oaxacan Celebrations”

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

  2. 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.

    1. 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.

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

    1. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

    1. 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!

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

      1. 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 🙂

    1. 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).

  7. 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? 🙂

    1. 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.

    1. 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.

  8. 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.

    1. 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.

  9. 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.

    1. 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.

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