2023 Oaxaca Day of the Dead

Learn about the Day of the Dead

The Day of the Dead (Día de Los Muertos) is an ancient Mexican tradition that honors deceased family members. It takes place in October when families visit cemeteries to decorate gravesites with flowers, candles, and other items.

In addition to celebrating the lives of those who have died, the Day of the Dead also serves as a reminder of our own mortality. We honor the dead because we recognize that death is inevitable.


The Guelaguetza Festival and all the fairs have ended this year in Oaxaca.  We have had a summer full of color, music, art, and food. It is such a fantastic time of year.

But coming up next in Oaxaca is the Day of the Dead!  At the Instituto Cultural Oaxaca, we will have the “Day of the Dead Program.”   We will have a lot of special activities and celebrations, please, read on for further details.

Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) on November 1st and 2nd exemplifies the relationship between Christianity and pre-historic traditions. It is one of the most colorful and most time-honored holidays in Mexico. Although Dia de Los Muertos is nationally recognized, Oaxaca has become known for its traditionally rich celebrations to honor the return of the dead.

Preparations for the Day of the Dead begin at least a week before the festival. It is believed that on the last day of October, the souls of children who have passed away come to visit the altars. November 2nd is reserved for adults. It is an old belief that after their long pilgrimage from the other life, the dead arrive on earth tired and thirsty. To nourish these souls, offerings of candles, flowers, and traditional Oaxacan food is placed on the altars.

Altar de muertos del Instituto Cultural Oaxaca
Las señales que guían a nuestros difuntos.

In villages outside Oaxaca, the celebration of Muertos is most commonly known as Todos Santos or All Saints. This day is often the most celebrated day of the year. Altars, both in homes and cemeteries, are honored by all. In local cemeteries, the graves are wonderfully decorated with candles, flowers, and food. During this time, the living joins together to rejoice in the return of their ancestors. During the afternoon of November 1st, many Comparsas (parades) take place, representing and celebrating the return of the dead. Experiencing these parades and visiting cemeteries and homes enables you to enjoy the richness of this celebration and experience the cultural importance of the festivals.

You will find much to see and do in the city of Oaxaca and the surrounding villages during the celebrations. For this reason, we offer you the opportunity to partake in the different village tours and encourage you to stay in the city and absorb the atmosphere. This freedom enables you to immerse yourself in the celebrations and also discover on your own the wonders this culturally rich time in Oaxaca presents.

The Day of the Dead program is offered exclusively for two weeks: Monday, October 23 through Friday, November 3, 2023.

Day of the Dead at the Instituto Cultural Oaxaca

The program is offered in 40 hours and includes:

  • Twenty hours of one designated Spanish course per level. (Language and Tradition)
  • Twenty hours of one of two courses: practical (tertulia cultural) or thematic course. 

Cultural workshops from 4 pm – 6 pm. The workshops we offer during the Day of the Dead are seasonal, and we do not offer regular workshops during this program. You can choose from a traditional mask-making workshop or a specialized Day of the Dead cooking class. 

Prepare food and drinks for the deceased.

Our cooking class will teach us what foods and drinks are served during the celebration. We will learn about “Mole Negro,” how to prepare it, and why it is present at every table in Oaxaca during “Dia de Los Muertos.”

Celebrate with family gatherings, parades, dancing, music, food, and more.

For this reason, at the Instituto Cultural Oaxaca, we also host a private comparsa (parade) on Tuesday, November 1st. Students, Teachers, Intercambios, and Homestay Families gather to celebrate the lives of those who are not with us anymore. The Comparsa includes a live band, mezcal, hot chocolate, and notable Day of the Dead bread.

Additionally, we offer three tours to cemeteries and celebrations in the city during the weekend of October 30th; to allow students to experience in person the number of ways that various populations in Oaxaca celebrate the Day of the Dead. 

Learn more about the Day of the Dead in Oaxaca with MOCAdventures

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