Dia de los Muertos or the Day of the Dead (November 1st and 2nd) is one of the most beautiful and important holidays in Oaxaca. On these days we honor, remember, and celebrate family and friends who have died. For our family it is a chance to acknowledge and pay respects to the generations who have come before us and who have taught us so much about working leather and even more importantly about life.

Dia de los Muertos is one of the oldest Oaxacan traditions and it’s a fascinating synthesis of pre-hispanic culture and Christianity. The tradition greatly predates Spanish conquest. It may have originated with the Olmecs around 3,000 years ago and then spread to other indigenous cultures including the Toltecs, Maya, Zapotec, Mixtec and Aztecs.  The Aztec celebration was held during the Aztec month of Miccailhuitontli and presided over by the goddess Mictecacihuatl Lady of the Dead. After Spanish conquest Catholicism became the official religion, although native peoples often resisted this conversion. Dia de los Muertos is one example of the fascinating synthesis of Roman Catholic and indigenous customs and beliefs.

Central to Dia de los Muertos are elaborate altars (ofrendas) set up by graves and also in homes. These altars contain offerings to the dead – favorite foods, pan de muerto (bread of the dead) and beverages (mezcal and tequila are common) – as well as Mexican marigold (cempasúchil) flowers thought to attract the souls of the dead.  They also often contain a cross, a statue or picture of the Virgin Mary, photos of the deceased, and sugar skulls. The altars are beautiful, individualized creations and much care and resources are put into them.

While Dia de los Muertos is centrally concerned with death, it’s not really a gloomy holiday. Rather, it’s a time to fondly remember the dead, to tell humorous stories, or to have a picnic by a family grave. The smell of ocote (a native pine tree), chocolate and bread wafts out of houses inviting passed relatives and loved ones.

As usual, we’ll be setting up an altar to our ancestors. This year it will be at our store from October 28 – November 6. Everyday we work hard to honor our family’s values and its tradition of leather working.  We’re hoping our ancestors will be able to watch us at work.  We’ll post photos of our altar on social media. And we very much hope you’ll come by and visit.

All the best,

The Martinez Family

(Photos: Constantino Ruiz Bautista @enigmatino)

October 29, 2015 — Mark Feldman