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Posted by on Nov 12, 2012 in Mexico, North America

Celebrating the Dead at Dia de los Muertos

Oaxaca Mexico - Dia de Muertos -angel and candles

The graves are lit with glowing candles so that the light is not bright, but deep and warm and bubbling. The night air is ideal, clear and crisp and cool, permeated with scents and sounds that entice and enchant one person after another. This is the way to celebrate the deceased – this is Dia de los Muertos in Oaxaca Mexico.


On 31 October 2012 I was sitting in the back of a crowded tourist van en route to Xoxochatlan, a small village 30km NW of Oaxaca. I knew I was headed to the graveyards and I knew the celebration would be unique, it would be new. Canada doesn’t honour the dead with festivities and vigils – we let what is deceased lay in rest and we cherish memories. Mexico celebrates the passing with a yearly celebration of candles, flowers, songs, and drinking.  This night was going to be shattering to the ideals of home and warming to my heart. I was told to bring my family with me in my heart and celebrate alongside with the locals to honour my deceased. My grandfather was with me this night.

Oaxaca Mexico - Dia de Muertos - inside the tomb

People roam from grave to grave, wandering down muddy paths that loop around each engraved stone. I was given candles and heavily scented flowers to place onto graves that may not have family there to celebrate. I held my candle’s wick over a candle on the next grave and cupped my hand around it once lit to protect it from the breeze pushing over the brick walls enclosing the graveyard. I placed it upon a lone grave, arranging the flowers in a neat circle, tears coming to my eyes as I recalled my Grandfather I missed so dearly. As the plucking of guitar strings and deep voices chanting reached my ears I knew I needed to celebrate a life, not mourn a death.

Oaxaca Mexico - Dia de Muertos - old lady lighting candle

Families huddled around elaborately decorated graves. Lillies, Roses, and a plethora of other flowers I couldn’t recall the name of but whose scent triggered memories that quickly twirled and dissipated in my mind, as memories often do. The families sat huddled against one another, blankets draped over knees and wrapped around shoulders, singing softly the words to a song I felt I should know, a song that snared my emotions and whose words rose into the night air:

Muere el sol en los montes (The sun is dying in the mountains)
Con la luz que agoniza (The Light is passing away)
Es la vida en su prisa (Life is rushing headlong)
Nos conduce a morir (to lead us to our death)

Pero no importa saber que voy (But it’s no different to me)
A tener el mismo final (that I’ll have the same end)
Porque me queda el Consuelo (I’ll take solace in knowing)
Que Dios nunca morira (That God never dies)

Voy a dejar las cosas que ame (I’m going to leave the things I love)
La tierra ideal que me via nacer (the perfect place where I was born)
Pero se que despues habre de alcanzar (to gain the happiness and peace)
La dicha y la paz que en Dios hallare (that is found in God) 

Se que la vida empieza en donde (I know that life begins)
Se piensa que la realidad termina (where we think reality ends)
Se que Dios nunca muere (I know that God never dies)
Y que se conmueve del que busca su gratitud (and gratefully answers all who seek him)

Se que una nueve luz (I know that a new light)
Hara de alcanzar nuestra soledad (will touch our solitude)
Y que todo aquel que llega a morir (and all those who reach death)
Empieza a vivir una eternidad. (will begin to live forever)

Oaxaca Mexico - Dia de Muertos - cross outlined by candles


  1. Great post. I especially love the photo of the old woman with her candles and marigolds… very touching.

    • Thank you. I was glad I snapped that photo because she was placing the candles to gently onto the grave.

  2. A very touching piece, and particularly evocative photos – thanks for sharing.

    • Thank you. It was a day filled with mixed emotions for me. I feel lucky to have experienced such a festival.

  3. Great post. The song lyrics are beautiful and capture the solemn yet celebratory nature of Dial de Muertos.

    • Thank you. I loved the song – it was beautiful and haunting all in one.

  4. Great post and great song Chrystal. I think we can learn a lot from this tradition of celebrating the dead (or the life they lived).
    Very thought provoking.

    • Thank you. Yes I agree we can learn a lot – it is such a different take on death and it requires us to look outside of our tradition

  5. El dia de los muertos is definitely one aspect of Mexican culture I find unique and intriguing. The whole idea of celebrating death as opposed to treating it as a taboo subject is so different than what we’re used to.

    • Exactly! It was difficult to grasp that this was an actual celebration and new way of honouring death. To realize I could celebrate a life and not mourn a death is something I will struggle with because of my upbringing – but I do like celebrating more than mourning.


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