Five years ago this week, I was in Oaxaca, Mexico. Along with a small group of other photographers, we were there to immerse ourselves in and learn about the annual celebration of Día de los Muertos.
It was a wonderful experience, one that especially comes to mind this time of year, around Halloween. Because, although many in the US equate the two celebrations, one thing I learned quickly on this trip is that they are not at all the same.
Día de los Muerto is not Mexican Halloween.
Although Halloween has it’s roots in Christianity, these days, at least in this country, it is a very secular, very commercial celebration. A short party pit stop on the road to the really big sales days of Christmas.
For one thing, Día de los Muerto is actually two days, November 1 and 2. And it is all about family, a celebration of loved ones who are no longer with us. The first day is all about the children who died far too soon, while the second is a remembrance of all our ancestors.
In Mexico, the traditions included building alters to family gone in the home, parades in the streets, and joyously visiting the cemeteries where the loved ones are buried and decorating their graves. Some family even set up barbecues and offered food to any visitors. Including those of us who were very out of place but also very curious.
Now, I fully realize that spending a week in a location like Oaxaca will never result in anything like a full understanding of the culture. I also know that some of what we saw was designed for the many outsiders who visit the region at this time of year.
However, as with most of my experiences away from home, the short time spent in this beautiful area was only a first step to better understand the peoples and customs of another culture. Which is something we in this country should be doing far more of.
Anyway, if you are also curious about this cultural celebration that has its roots in pre-Hispanic Mexico, start by reading the second-linked article above. The Pixar film Coco (released the month after we were in Oaxaca) is actually also a pretty good introduction to Día de los Muertos.
And, of course, I also recommend visiting my gallery from the trip. Hopefully, you find something to enjoy in those images.
In my travels, two things seem to be universal: smart phones and selfies. In the photo at the top, several young ladies who were walking in one of the many Día de los Muertos parades we saw, stopped long enough to take a few shots of themselves.