Legend and History Days of the Dead
Legend and History, Day Of The Dead Oaxaca     
  • Traditional Flowers
The Marigold Flower is prominent during the Day of the Dead Festival in Oaxaca.
During the three-day October, November holiday the families clean  the graves and
preparing the tombs for traditional return of the spirits.  During this time flowers
decorate the tombs and home altars. Families leave offerings for the spirits in the
home and at the cemetery, they leave paths of marigold flower petals to guide the
  • Cemetery Tours
To participate in these ancient traditions a visitor can visit the
cemeteries near Oaxaca on the last night of October and the first
two nights of November.  
Thousands of candles and tons marigolds and cockscomb flowers
decorate the tombs. Each village celebrates on different days and
with different styles of decoration, but the evenings are sure to be
unique as families continue ancient traditions by visiting the
graveyards to sit by the tombs and wait for the spirits to return.
The markets are full of flowers that the families will use to decorate their home altars and tombs Marigold
and cockscomb are the flowers with special meaning. The marigold, the Fleur de Meurto, or  flower of
death is the traditional flower used by the families.
In the evening the families decorate with this flower and sit by the tombs waiting for the return of the spirits.
In the new cemetery of Xoxoccotlan, artist Juan Cruz Pascual decorates  with a sand painting replete
with Christian motifs    
Xoxocotlan celebrates on the last night of October
In the town of Tlalixtac south of Oaxaca City, on the night of
November first,
 the families practice the ancient traditions as they sit
by  the decorated tombs.
Part of the
excitement of
the season in
comes when
the shops in
city decorate
with candles
and flower
petals to
continue the
traditions of
honoring the
  • Traditions In Oaxaca City
The city of Oaxaca becomes an exciting place to be during the festival.  The city comes
alive with music, art, museum exhibitions, and the decorating of altars in the pedestrian-
only streets.  
Oaxaca's hotels and shops decorate their entry ways with the traditional altar and the
restaurants feature the traditional regional cuisine of Oaxaca as they spend the last
week of October preparing for Oaxaca's Day of the Dead cemetery tradition of nightly
  • Ancient Traditions
The festival is bound by tradition and history in Oaxaca.  Although
Europe has a similar visiting of the grave on All Saints and All
Souls day, the trappings of Oaxaca's ritual has non -Christian
The use of skulls on the offerings, (in modern times candy skulls),  
has an archaeological counterpart.  According to some
archaeological reports, excavation of ancient tombs reveals skulls
grouped together, disarticulated.  The skulls might have been used
in ritual, removed from the tomb each year.
Tombs in ancient burials also have offerings of plant material and
ceramic vessels.
The festival belongs to the indigenous people  who continue the ritual regardless of the Christian Spanish
overtones.  The further one travels from the city of Oaxaca the more pagan the ceremony becomes.
Sand Painting in Xoxocotlon cemetery for the night vigil
Legend and History play important
parts during Oaxaca's Day of the
Marigold flowers and Chocolate are
part of the indigenous tradition as is
the spreading of flower petals in a
trail to the grave.  The inclusion of
chocolate in the building of an altar  
(ofrenda) also is part of
pre-Hispanic tradition.
The extensive use of the Marigold
flower, a plant called Fluer de Muerto is
of ancient origin for the ceremony as is
the burning of copal incense, a practice
reported by the first Spanish
According to legend and histories gathered by the early Spanish
settlers in Mexico, the Day of the Dead ritual started well before the
arrival of the Spanish.  Christian and Indigenous beliefs come
together on the night of October 31 to create a spectacle full of ancient
and modern symbols.
    History and Tradition
The ancient cities in the valley of Oaxaca reveal
artifacts and room design still in use today.  
  • Ancient Legend
The building of an altar or offering table in the east
facing room of the house is a custom still practiced
by families today who build an east facing room and
an altar used for special occasions. Ancient homes
excavated show this same design.
  • Altar, Ofrenda
During the Day of the Dead ceremony, these altars
are decorated with marigold flowers, chocolate,
special breads, cane, and many traditional
touches.  Gift are left on the alter for guests and for
the spirits on their return.  
Hotels and shops in the city also build altars for the
Oaxaca's Day Of The Dead celebration sees the  
indigenous people  decorating their home altars
with marigold flowers, chocolate, loaves of special
bread, and candles during the last week of
  • Cemetery Tradition
The families then gather on the last day of October
to go to the cemetery where they decorate their
tombs. They welcome visitors who come to the
cemetery as they sit by the graveside in a night vigil
of waiting for the return of the spirits.
  • Traditional Flowers
Marigold is the traditional flower
used on the Day of the Dead in
Oaxaca and throughout Mexico.  
In the remote villages, the people
use a wild version of the Marigold.  
The small wild version flowers nearly
year round and is plentiful in the
fields in October.  

In Oaxaca, the indigenous people
call the flower Cempasuchitl in the
Nahuatl language (Aztec)
The Spanish name for the flower, flor
de muerto, means flower of death.
Day of the Dead, Atzompa Cemetery, Oaxaca, Mexico, October 31
In the city and more affluent towns, tons of domesticated and
cultivated marigold flowers decorate the graveyards.  The
people go to the cemetery at night and  hold a cemetery vigil by
candlelight at the decorated tombs. Atzompa October 31
  • Wild Marigold, Traditional Flower
The people of remote villages, having meager
means to buy the cultivated Marigold, will harvest
the wild plant and use it to construct their
offerings.  (Ofrenda, an altar of sorts with gifts for
the dead)  

The Family will gather to remove the petals from
the flower and spread them on the ground to
make a path to the house and to the grave.  The
pungent aroma of the marigold and the bright
color of the yellow petals will guide the spirit to
the home altar and to the cemetery.  
Day of the Dead at  Atzompa Cemetery, Oaxaca, Mexico on  October 31
A candle  for  Susan, Atzompa . October 31
The cemetery of Xoxocotlan
celebrates on the
night of
October 31.
  Atzompa Oct. 31
Oaxaca's Day of the Dead involves legend and history
including the use of marigold flowers and chocolate during
the festival. The spreading of flower petals to the grave and
the use of chocolate in the building of an offering have
pre-Hispanic roots.   
Traditional Sand Painting in
Xoxocotlan cemetery for the night
The tradition today is to
decorate the tomb with
flowers and candles on the
last night of October
  • Traditional Sand Painting