At this time in 2019, my husband and I traveled to Oaxaca City, Mexico to experience the celebration of Dia de los Muertos.
Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a Mexican holiday where the souls of deceased relatives join their families for a brief reunion. From October 31 through November 2, the border between the spirit world and the living world opens, allowing the spirits to cross over. The holiday is filled with beautiful symbols, traditions, and imagery. It is a joyful time: the spirits are treated as honored guests as they feast, drink, dance, and play music with their families. Many believe that if you remember them, they never cease to exist.
One of the most recognizable symbols are the alters or “ofrendas” (offerings) that can be found in public places and private homes. Although each colorful alter is unique, they all are decorated with specific components that honor loved ones and provide what they need on the journey to rejoin their families.
Every ofrenda includes the four elements: water, air, earth, and fire. Water is provided so the spirits can quench their thirst after their journey. Air is represented by colorful paper banners. Earth is represented by food, especially bread. The light from candles helps the spirits find their way. In addition, alters are decorated with pictures of the departed, their favorite foods and drinks, sugar skulls, and marigolds (whose scent and bright orange color help attract souls to the alter).
All of these pictures were taken of ofrendas in public places. The alters created in private homes tend to be much less elaborate, but equally beautiful.
I’m sharing these images from our trip as part of Terri’s Sunday Stills photo challenge, whose theme this week is Indoor/Outdoor Decorations.
86 thoughts on “Welcoming the Spirits Home”
Beautiful photos, Janis. This culture has a much healthier relationship with death than our current North American one. Someday I would love to go to Mexico for the Day of the Dead.
I agree, Deb! Death is a part of life… and how great would it be for the spirits of loved ones to return and party with us!
It’s so nice to see this post from you Janis. I’ve been missing you.
Wonderful photos! I especially love the selfie. 😀
I thought it would be fun to share some of my Oaxaca pictures this time of year. Don’t you think we look pretty good in the selfie? Maybe a little thin…
Beautiful photos, Janis. How wonderful that you experienced the Day of the Dead celebration in Mexico. Before the pandemic, I used to go to the annual Day of the Dead festival in Toronto. It had similar colourful and elaborate ofrendas created by Mexican artists. I hope it will return next year.
I am so happy we were able to go before the pandemic. We have a nice celebration here too but I think the real reason behind the holiday can get lost in the drinking and partying. It was nice to experience the real thing.
Wow! Those are elaborate. You might want to post a link on either Cee’s post from last Friday or my PPAC post for this coming Friday. I love how colorful the displays are, don’t you? Hope you have happy celebrations this year, too. 🙂
The alters are very elaborate and colorful. It’s interesting to see all the various elements included in the displays. Thanks for the tips. I’ll check out Cee’s post and yours.
Great. Janis. There is so much variety in Public Art! 🙂
Wow! They are elaborate! Thank you for all the wonderful photos.
Aren’t they great? While I love Halloween decorations in this country (the creepier, the better), I really like the beliefs and rituals behind the Day of the Dead. It really is a joyful celebration.
I think I’ve heard the title of the holiday, but I’ve never read about it or seen photos of it.
That’s amazing! It’s quite an event. The selfie one is very creative.
It was a “bucket list” item and I’m so happy we experienced the celebration.
I had no idea it was so elaborate so thanks for sharing.
2019…hmmm, maybe you’ll catch go again in 2022? I think I remember you saying you wanted to go back – at least to the area, if not for the festival.
It was our second trip to Oaxaca and, yes, we’d like to go back… maybe during the Christmas season? They have a carved radish festival I’d love to see.
that radish thing sounds really cool – brings to mind us cousins doing the radish flowers for the relish tray during family get togethers…and on a more professional level, Japanese traditional veggie carving!
If you are interested, google Fiesta de los Rabanos Oaxaca. The images are amazing!
These are fabulous photos Janis. I have heard a bit about this particular celebration before but you’ve explained it really well, as I didn’t quite get it!
I think it is a much healthier way to view death and departed loved ones. If you haven’t seen it already, watch the movie “Coco.” It’s Disney so your grandchildren might like it too (hopefully not too scary for them).
Thanks for the recommendation Janis.
I can see why you have such fond memories of Oaxaca, Janis, especially around this holiday! Umm, yes funny on that selfie–as if! But those other ofrendas are elaborate and amazing to behold. I have no doubt spirits are closer to us on these days as so many folks are thinking and praying for their departed loved ones. Perfect post for the theme and season!
It’s hard to believe we were there enjoying the festivities in person just two years ago. I really appreciate your themes this month: they have prompted me to re-visit my Oaxacan photos and remember what a great time we had.
I know, two years, time has truly flown, Janis. Glad you could revisit your trip. I get notifications from Google images that remind me of some trip or place I’ve been to. Always fun to see those special vacations again.
The colors are what stand out most to me in these ofrendas, Janis. But I can imagine the smells as well, especially of the flowers and the sugary treats. I have a sneaking suspicion I might live in Mexico one year during the fall to experience the Day of the Dead and all the celebrations. Ideally, without a dog in tow, as you suggested before…
Oaxaca during Dia de los Muertos is a cornucopia of sounds, smells, and visual treats. I hope you are able to experience it for yourself sometime.
I honeymooned in Mexico in 1965 and returned two more times in the ’70s. Love the culture but had never really read up on Day of the Dead. Thank you for the explanation and lovely photos!
I’m glad you enjoyed the photos! I think a lot of people either haven’t heard of the celebration or don’t really understand the significance. My explanation just scratched the surface.
On your recommendation, I remember visiting the beautiful Panteón General in Oaxaca. It was a Sunday in March 2018 and many families of the departed were sweeping and scrubbing their loved one’s gravestones. I was touched by these simple but devoted remembrances. Día de Muertos in Oaxaca must have been very moving and unforgettable.
I was able to visit several cemeteries during the event, and they were all unique and wonderful (yes, I love cemeteries 🙂 ), but the Panteón General is by far my favorite. Like you, I was so impressed with the care many families took to honor their relatives.
Traveling and observing always allows us a new perspective and a learning experience. Wonderful photos.
You are so right, Judy! We tend to judge others by our own traditions and experiences when, in fact, they can come from a completely different perspective.
Such a joyful and yet still reverent tribute to a loved one! I echo Deb’s words – they do it right!
I agree! Losing a loved one is never a happy experience but believing their souls can return each year to be with us – even for a brief period – can be a comfort.
Thanks Janis. One of the skeletons reminds me of ventriloquist Jeff Dunham’s puppet he calls “Achmed, the dead terrorist.” The puppet has a following. Keith
I hadn’t heard of Achmed but I just watched a YouTube of a performance… too funny! Dia de los Muertos skeletons are much friendlier 🙂
Wow! These are so colorful and elaborate!
They are so joyful and I love all the symbolism.
My daughter visited Mexico for the specific day of dead celebrations a few years ago. She came back with beautiful paper to hang in her apt and inspired me to put that trip on my have to see list. Thanks for the post.
I hope you get to go sometime. The event is celebrated different in different regions of Mexico (some places not at all). Oaxaca’s is one of the best.
I’m so glad you posted this. I’ll be creating an altar for Dia de los Muertos for my folks, who both passed away last year. I made altars for each of them when they died, but now I’ll be creating one for them together. It gives me the opportunity to remember them in a tangible way, and to celebrate the joy and love they shared in life. I’ve been to Day of the Dead celebrations in Santa Fe, and one of these days I’d like to experience the celebration in Oaxaca.
I’m so glad that you are making your own alter! I love the thought that goes into each one to make it personal for the loved one.
I like the idea behind the celebration of Dia de los Muertos. Instead of fearing the beyond, why not make a colorful show of it, embrace what may be coming next. Your photos are a perfect addition to the challenge topic.
You are right. Since it will eventually happen to all of us, why not view death – and what happens after – in a positive way? I think many other cultures do this better than we do.
Great photos! They know how to celebrate!
They sure do!
I learned about this event from that Disney animated movie a few years back, which actually did a good job in explaining it. I love the displays you captured… some are so elaborate! Thanks for sharing.
Yes! Coco did a great job explaining the tradition. As a side note, while in Oaxaca, I met the woman who was the inspiration for Mama Elena, Miguel’s grandmother. She looked just like her animated self.
I feel like the Disney movie, Coco, explained this whole holiday. I guess I’d never really known about it before. It seems that a great effort is put into making the decorations beautiful and that all the skeletons aren’t intended to be scary.
Coco was great and, although Disney, very respectful of the celebration. I think a lot of people were introduced to the holiday though that movie.
Wonderful photos and I love the true meaning of the entire celebration, Janis. The vibrant colors stood out for me, too. Thanks for sharing. I’m sure that was a fabulous experience.
It was definite a “bucket list” experience. Oaxaca is known for having art and vibrant color everywhere, but it is especially true during the Day of the Dead.
Gorgeous photos of the ofrendas . I agree with Deb. A better way to deal with death. I didn’t know about the earth, air, fire, and water part. If you haven’t seen the Disney animated film Coco, I think you would enjoy it.
Yes, Coco was wonderful and captured the magic of the celebration well.
I do like the idea of having a festival to celebrate (with) the dead. Such colorful tributes – the very essence of life. Beautiful photos.
That’s exactly right: they celebrate with the dead in way that brings them peace.
Thanks for sharing the photos. Wow, so many details to look at. I imagine it would be extra fascinating to see in person. Are you looking forward to going there again?
I’d love to go to Oaxaca again but maybe not during this celebration… it can get pretty crowded. We enjoyed a week or so before the week of festivities and a few weeks after so we could experience all the delights without all the people.
I hope you get to go again. I’m with you on wanting to experience the before and after and not so much when it’s really crowded!
What I’ve always been amazed with about Mexican culture is all the COLORS. Good god, everything is so vivid and beautiful. – Marty
I don’t know why, but some cultures embrace vivid colors and lots of celebrations and some do not. I’d much rather be among those who do.
Fun pictures for this annual celebration Janis and it’s hard to say whether my favorite is the wedding or your selfie shot. 🙂
Haha! That selfie was one of our best! 🙂
It was great and you are aging well Janis. I can say that since we’re the same age. 🙂
Thanks Janis for sharing this. Beautiful photos and the Day of The Dead ..Mexico.
Thank you, I glad you enjoyed them.
These are wonderful images of the alters. I didn’t know about the 4 elements being represented there. It’s pretty cool.
I love the bright colors, and they way they remember their loved ones who have passed away.
The alters were everywhere and we enjoyed seeing the objects included that had special meaning for the loved one.
These photos are beautiful, Janis. I love the bright colors and the idea of truly celebrating our loved ones who have died.
It was nothing like the somber dark colors we associate with death in this country.
Thank you for sharing the wonderful photos and your explanation about this tradition. It is such an interesting post.
Thank you! I am so grateful we were able to see the celebration for ourselves.
I’m very familiar with the tradition in Southern California observances, but it would be really exciting to celebrate the cultural experience in Oaxaca. It is such a beautiful and meaningful expression of respect for loved ones, and ancestral traditions. Lovely photos!
We had often attended Dia de los Muertos celebrations here in SoCal too, but nothing prepared us for what we experienced in Oaxaca. The most impactful experience was visiting the cemeteries at night and seeing the families honoring their loved ones. Truly beautiful.
I thought I was already following you. I think the Day of the Dead is a healthy way to look at mortality. I am gonna have to make a point of trying to get to one.
Oh, I hope that you do! Since mortality will eventually get us all 🙂 I think it’s better to believe that we can still visit our loved ones once a year… and they’ll be happy to see us.
Beautiful photos, Janis, and thanks for the explanation of the elements included in an ofrenda. Our Halloween tradition is also based on the idea of the spirits of the dead rising from their graves, but in a much more sinister way.
As much as I love the creepy elements of our Halloween, I do appreciate the more positive beliefs behind the Day of the Dead.
Greetings, Janis. I’ve been away from wordpress for quite awhile now, but it’s wonderful to come back and see familiar faces, read you great words and see the captivating photos. Thanks for sharing – Susan
Hi there, friend! I hope to see you around the blogosphere more!
Happy New Years, Janis!
Lovely photos of intricate ofrendas! We did not have the chance to see Oaxaca in El Dia de los Muertos, but we have heard how festive it is even though the occasion revolves around death. A different way to look at mortality, for sure.
When we went in 2019, it was pretty crowded but we both felt that it was well worth it… just once, anyway. We hope to go back to Oaxaca (it would be our third stay) but we’d probably pick a less touristy time. I hope you can experience it for yourselves sometime!
Hi, Janis – I am just making sure that my comments are reaching you. Testing 1, 2, 3!
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