It felt weird, twisted even, to be visiting a graveyard to ogle the mourners at their loved ones graves. But this was Day of the Dead Festival, a celebration of what is coming to us all, and the Xoxocotlán Cemetery was the place to be overnight on the 31 October whether you knew someone in there or not.
I went in the day to see the families set up and was warmly welcomed by anyone who caught my eye. Friends and family members of anyone with the Xoxocotlán Cemetery as their final resting place knows the Day of the Dead drill by now. They’re carrying out another one of the many Dia de los Muertos traditions – repainting the graves to make them as enticing as possible for the souls to return to – and the tourists want to see it in action. As one of the most visited graveyards in the world, Day of the Dead Festival is a chance to fix them up, to decorate and to celebrate before the souls arrive on 1 November.
At the graveside
I saw the bereaved put flowers on the grave, light candles and carefully place offerings of food and drink – the souls are believed to consume the essence of them at the end of their long journey back to the living.
Some families were laughing as they got the grave ready, no idea what about as I don’t speak Spanish, but the graveyeard felt like a happy place – not like the spooky cemeteries you get in England.
We could see the beginnings of the night’s celebrations – the best in Oaxaca so I was told. A huge stage had been set up, flower stalls lined the cemetery walls and the food kiosks were beginning to their fry on.
Looked like we were going to be in for a good night!
Back to the Xoxocotlán Cemetery
At 10:30pm we were back again. Outside the graveyard hundreds of seats were set out for the earlier performance, people were drinking Mezcal, scoffing at the food stalls and from what I could see, just generally having a lovely time.
Inside the Xoxocotlán Cemetery it was more of the same. Groups of Mexicans were gathered around their loved one’s grave, swigging from the Mezcal, covered in blankets and with the food they’d bought along to last the evening.
There was Mariachi bands, guitars, singing and even dancing throughout the night. The graveyard was ablaze with candlelight and you could smell the flowers, incense and cooking of the café de la olla in the air. I left at around 2:30am and the party was showing no signs of stopping.
The night spent with dead relatives at Xoxocotlán Cemetery, and lots of other cemeteries around Mexico, is a celebration. The more the living talk and remember their dead loved ones, the more their lives and legacy goes on. This is the one night in the year that their loved ones are with them again and so it’s time to party!
Graves in Mexico
The graves I saw in the cemeteries in Mexico were awesome. Some could be huge mausoleums for the whole family, others just crazy pink with skulls and skeletons on, and some absolutely bonkers.
Getting to Xoxocotlán Cemetery
In the day we got the bus – easy from Benito Juarez Avenue in Oaxaca (7 pesos / 32p). Just tell the bus driver where you want to go and he’ll drop you off by the monotaxis. Once you see them you need to get one straight to the graveyard (5 pesos / 23p). Overall it was about a 20-minute journey.
In the evening four of us got a taxi straight there from the Casa Angel Hostel and it was just 40 pesos between us (cheaper than the bus) although some of our friends paid a lot more.
You can get tours out but they were hundreds of pesos, and you won’t need them once you’ve read all my articles on Day of the Dead Festival!
Wednesday 5th of November 2014
Hey Vicky, really enjoying your articles on the “Day or the Dead” festival. Maybe the Mexicans could teach us westerners a much more healthy approach to life and death. What is it that is said about the only things you can be sure of in life is death and taxes. Hope they don’t have to deal with the taxes as much as we do. Cheers, Bob
Thursday 6th of November 2014
Hey Bob, thanks for following along. Yeah, being in Mexico for Day of the Dead Festival has definitely taught me to look at death a different way. I want to write about it soon actually as I felt like they had a really refreshing approach to what is going to happen to us all!