In Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, the church bells begin to ring at 3 p.m. on November 1, All Saints Day, to signal the start of Day of the Dead. The sound of the bells guide the spirits back to earth.
(Photos posted here represent the work of participants in the group: Ron Thompson, Barbara Szombatfalvy, Donna Howard, Steven Dank, Starr Sariego, Luvia Lazo, Norma Hawthorne, and photographer/instructor Frank Hunter.)
Men tend the twin bell towers to pull the cord that echoes the sound across the valley. They work in shifts through the night and through the next day until 3 p.m. on All Souls Day, November 2, when the spirits begin their journey back to the grave.
The aroma of copal incense, wild marigold, lilies, bread and chocolate welcome the departed back to earth. The scent is strong and aligns with this pre-Hispanic ritual deeply rooted in belief.
The beauty of our Day of the Dead Photography Expedition is that each participant gets to experience this ritual personally. We embed them for a day with a local family to share the main November 2 meal of mole negro with chicken and tamales with mole amarillo.
Then, participants join the family at the cemetery to accompany the spirits and sit with them at grave sites. The practice ensures that re-entry to the underworld is filled with love, devotion and peace. In this way, we are intimately connected to the community, if only for a day.
At 3 p.m. a breeze came through and the papel picado flutter. Moments later it stopped. After the meal, we walked to the cemetery but a light rain became stronger and a taxi took us the rest of the way. The light was shadowy and obscure. People covered themselves with plastic and umbrellas. The atmosphere was magical.
As the band played and the village leaders assembled to pay homage to the traditions and customs of Zapotecs long ago, children played, rode bicycles, hid under huge displays of flowers and in the shadow of the tombs.