I have been traveling to Oaxaca for more than 10 years, to the Pacific Coast and of course, I have fallen in love with the area. I have even purchased land, and plan on building a dream there. I want to share one of my most cherished memories, that was the beginning of my love for this area,was when I happened to be in San Agustinillo on Day of the Dead, 2007.
I was in a small restaurant, Ebertina’s, only 4 tables, having a freshly made meal, when I noticed a few villagers walking in a straight line carrying platters of vegetables, sweets and fruits. Others joined them with candles and I heard them singing and more people joined in. Soon, the entire village was in procession laughing, celebrating and in harmony of spirit. I wondered where they were going, and followed, a little bashful, as I knew I didn’t fit in. Soon, I saw it was the cemetery, and it was lit up with hundreds of candles, showing decor of hundreds of flowers and lacy paper garlands, just really beautiful. Oh my.
I made it a point over the next week to talk to everyone I knew about the traditions. The more I found out, the more I realized that the Day of the Dead that I thought I knew was a far cry from how it is really celebrated in this culture. Our Halloween is such a different energy and celebration, that it hardly seems to be the same. This is what I learned.
One is for the loved dead, to honor them, remember them and bring them to life through the art of stories, memories and pictures. A child who didn’t get to know a grandparent very well will look at pictures, hear stories and see favorite clothes, tools, wedding veils and special items they loved. They speak of the person as if they are there, serve them their favorite foods, and tell them what is going on in their lives. Many times a family will sit in the cemetery all night, reminiscing.
Two, is for children who have died before becoming an adult. These are the children who are so missed and cherished, and the anguish is real. They celebrate the lives that were lost too soon, and tell stories of what talents and accomplishments they had. In this way they heal, keeping the memories alive.
Third, they honor the lives of those who were not well loved or even liked. The criminals, ne’er do wells and those who had a challenge in staying on track. They encourage them to do better in the heavenly world and forgive them for their missteps on this one. Oh the lessons here, that forgiveness doesn’t die at the grave.
The whole community is devoting this 3 day holiday to focus on not only their individual memories, but the collective memories of the entire group. Then I saw the bigger picture. It’s not just once a year. They all go to each others weddings and funerals, attend the birth and commencement ceremonies of the children and work together to keep the community safe. In times of trouble, like a hurricane or fire, everyone is there, helping and contributing. It is what I would call a community that works. It is a high consciousness world model, too rare in so called civilized communities. Like mine.
Day of the Dead is as much about celebrating life as it is about honoring death. It teaches every child where they fit in, how they can contribute and what their families have done in the past. It is so very soothing. It brings peace in the worst of times, and joy in the best. It teaches that we should eat, drink, love and be merry as the reality of death cannot be ignored. But death is not the end, you will still hold your place in the community and the family you served. Many of us in the US have never felt this, not deeply, and to do so is a healing.
That is why I want to be in the city this year that is known for the best celebration of Day of the Dead. Oaxaca City. I will be honoring my Aunt Ruth. She was the most elegant, loving and kind woman I have ever known, and I want to bring her into the celebration with me, to honor her and bring me peace.
For the Ritual
I know you have someone you feel the same about, it is really why we are going, for peace, and to balance it there will be the best of food, art and mescal. Powerful balance. Bring a picture, an item they gave you or that brings you back, and your memories. We will do a ritual to honor our dead, and seek the peace that comes from this celebration.
I am choosing some accessories for each of us, and we will make a ritual out of personalizing them, but……….you need to choose your outfit and make up styles. I am including the picture below, because this is what to expect. I am wearing something similar, and I love this hat. i will probably not do the white face, too hot.
Day by Day
Sunday-Arrive at the IAH at least 2 hours before we travel, and bring your passport! We will meet at the gate, and have a light snack at the new and very good restaurant that is right by our gate. Bring some food for later, as we will get in too late to go eat. I have ordered snack food to go in the rooms, but just in case.
Monday-Arts and Crafts with me to get our costumes and make up ready for the adventure. It’s not all about us however, as we will talk about our dead as we get ready, and look at the ritual and altar materials. Today, as we get our first look at the Zocalo we will shop for some additional ritual items, and keep those memories alive. For dinner, I am taking us to a jewel of a restaurant, Los Danzantes. It is the favorite of one of our Wise Women goddesses, Anne Tonks, who has been coming to Oaxaca City for 35 years.
Tuesday-We’ll set up our altars in our rooms, and everyone will visit and hear about the choices, and really, “meet” your honored one. Then off to celebrate life, taking part in a traditional parade with the villagers of Soledad Etla. We will have some authentic help with our make up this time, and really immerse in the culture.
Wednesday-Up early to meet a local treasure of a chef, and join her tour at 9am in the square. Shopping for fresh food in the market, visit a working farm and then cooking a 5 course meal. Then eat it! This is an all day excursion, including lunch and dinner. No costume required.
Thursday- Free Morning and Afternoon-there are many museums and points of interest in walking distance to the square. By Thursday you will have made a few choices about your interests, and this is the day to explore on your own, or make plans within the group for mutual interest. There will be some shops to revisit I bet, and some cafes you want to try. As long as we all meet back up for a Mescal Tasting, at 6pm, and then who knows?
Friday-Today we are leaving the city by car and exploring the mountains to find art, artists and adventure. A professional guide is in charge and promises world class artisans in their studios making the famous Oaxacan treasures known all over the world.
Saturday- Free Afternoon-Power down, journal, share experiences, pack and get ready to say our farewells to the city all morning. We will drive into the city in early afternoon to let everyone go and do what they prefer, as we will all have some favorite places by now. I will want to take some portrait pictures on this day, in your favorite setting. Then, a professional cooking class at 5pm. The focus is cocktails and appetizers, with another locally (which means internationally) famous chef. I am told the food is “to die for.” Couldn’t resist.
We will finish our last night with music at a local hangout, taking in the vibe and the positive energy, rested and feeling a part of this vibrant community.
Bring pesos from home, around 500.00 is lavish. This is for shopping, lunches, dinners, tips, extras and alcoholic drinks. Some of you might have a desire on one of the free afternoons to take trip to destination that requires a taxi, or a lecture or tour not included in the itinerary.
The hotel provides breakfast, and I have noted where your food is part of the day’s activities. Most shops and restaurants take credit cards, and if you prefer to use mostly cards, you will need less cash.
Release-You must complete, sign and return this release before we travel,
I will be sending contact info and more details about the tours as we get closer to the trip. I have several contacts in Oaxaca city and I am still curating the experience, making sure to make it perfect. The city will be full, so I am happy to have accommodations slightly away from the energetic noise.
I will provide you with a full list of museums and “must see” sites before we leave, for planning your free afternoons.
Don’t forget there is a pool, bring your bathing suit, and loose comfortable clothes that feel feminine and colorful for the trip. I always bring several pairs of shoes, as we will be walking a lot.
Bring your journal, we will use it daily, and share some wisdom around the breakfast table I’m sure. I will be doing my photography thing, trying to get some pictures you will be proud of to show your ancestors when you get back. This is truly the trip of a lifetime!
Contact me with questions, firstname.lastname@example.org
Make sure you get your air reservations on United, IAH-OAX.
Sunday, October30-Sunday, November 6.
Thank you for traveling with me! I honor you and the journey that we share in spirit and in community.