Usually the ride to Xoxocotlan takes 10 to 15 minutes from Oaxaca, but the cemetery festivities during Muertos can extend the trip to at least 45 minutes. At 9 p.m. the Oaxaca Symphony was set to perform outside the Panteon, which is when we hoped to arrive. As we drove into town following a string of tuk-tuks, pick-ups, taxis, all sizes of vehicles packed with people, the queue extended for a couple of miles. Parking off the side street and a walk into the area via a back road was one of the best decisions we made.
The scene was one of festival with food tents, music, costumed devils and enchantresses, skeletons, harlequins. Distant sounds of guitar and horns, and a full symphony performing at the cemetery entrance competed for our attention. Vendors selling nuts, cotton candy, candied apples, balloons, and trinkets crossed our paths. As we approached the high arched Greek-like entrance to the graveyard, the wide path narrowed and people crushed together through the opening and we held onto each other. On the other side the vision was a spectacular scene of candles, extraoradinary flower arrangements of lilies, marigolds, roses and daisies adorning the graves of loved ones, punctuated by the competing aromas of food cooking and copal incense. Masked children darted through the crowd carrying bags and asking for money and candy. Families gathered to pay homage to their departed loved ones in celebration, eating, talking, laughing, singing, praying, and drinking beer and/or mezcal. The carnival air lent a sense of frivolity to what we in the U.S. think of as a sober affair. Graveyards here are full of life rather than full of fear and despair as we know it.
Janet said to us that loved ones who are on their death bed tell their families not to worry, they will see them again at Day of the Dead. A soothing and calming and hopeful belief system that allows people to die without fear.