Oaxacan Festivals are the most exciting times of the year in Oaxaca; many have religious significance. Participants in certain festivals will parade between churches in order to complete a variety of rituals. Others march around the zocalo wearing ornate costumes. December is a popular festival month but festivals are held at certain times throughout the year.
Guelaguetza is perhaps the largest and most exciting Oaxacan festival. This festival is centered around folk dancing with live music. Several Indian tribes perform their native dances and conduct re-enactment’s of their history. The primary Guelaguetza is held on the first two Mondays after July 16th. Thousands of people flood the city from Oaxaca and nearby villages. This festival is held in a large amphitheater on the side of a hill north west of town. My guide told me that the amphitheater was built solely for the Guelaguetza and lies dormant for the rest of the year.
During December, Quinta Real Hotel & Resort holds their own Guelaguetza in a large stone building adjoining the hotel. This includes an all you can eat dinner buffet with performances from different tribes. I was one of many in the audience. My favorite dance was the one with pineapples. Yes you read that correctly. Once the dance was completed, the performers threw crafts, pineapples and selected other edibles into the audience.
Virgen del Carmen is always held July 16th near the Temple del Carmen on Garcia Vigil. This part of the city is transformed into a large fairground for at least a week. Highlights include fireworks in the evenings.
Dios de Muertos is held for a few days in late October. This day honors all those who have died; rather then being a solemn ceremony Dios de los Muertos is largely built around having a fun time while remembering loved ones who have passed. For example masks worn by people are often in the shape of grinning skulls or decorated in a humorous manner. Participants visit cemeteries and create altars with a variety of gifts. Some travelers plan their trips to Oaxaca to coincide exactly with Dios de Muertos.
Virgen del la Soledad is held on December 18; processions and traditional dances are held in the zocalo during several days leading up to this festival. This is an ideal event for travelers to join and become lost in the middle of the crowd and ensuing excitement.
I can’t stress enough how important it is to actually join the crowd and become a part of their excitement instead of sitting on the outside and simply watching. I was never claustrophobic when I was surrounded by all the people. I could always slowly make my way to the edge of the crowd if I wanted. During these processions people are both drinking and offering drinks to you as well as singing and dancing.
Night of the Radishes is held in the zocalo on the 23rd of December. This festival involves carving various figures out of radishes and displaying them in the zocalo. This festival is fun because it also includes throwing pots against walls of buildings.
Vendors sell bunuelos, a type of pancake, in a small orange pot. After eating this, turn around backwards to a large wall against a church, make a wish, and then fling the pot over your head as hard as you can. For some reason there is something satisfying about hearing your pot break against this wall and you immediately want to buy more bunelos. The ground is literally covered with shards and fragments of broken orange pottery. This is an interesting festival indeed!