Oaxaca’s Greatest Fiestas

With fiestas throughout the year, it can seem like a celebration is always happening. From religious celebrations to civic occasions, here are some of the main festivities that you might encounter in this colorful city.

Calle de Licenciado Primo Verdad
Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patron saint of Mexico, is celebrated throughout the country on December 12. Festivities at the Basilica de Guadalupe in Mexico City are massive, but there are substantial festivities throughout the country. In Oaxaca, parents dress up their children in traditional peasants’ garb and take them to the Iglesia de Guadalupe on the north side of the Llano park. They enter the church to receive a blessing from the priest and outside they line up in front of the image of the Virgin. There are photographer’s stalls set up in front of the church to take a commemorative photo and the park is filled with food stands and mechanical rides for the kids’ entertainment after the religious duties are fulfilled. The feast day of the Virgin of Guadalupe is the unofficial beginning of Christmas festivities in Mexico, which don’t come to an end until Kings’ Day on January 6.
José María Morelos SN, Villa de Etla, 68200 Villa de Etla, Oax., Mexico
In Oaxaca, religious celebrations leading up to Easter tend to be quite somber, which is appropriate considering what the days commemorate. Although a lot of people take advantage of the two-week school break to go to the beach, those who stay in town partake of these somewhat mournful observances. Silent religious processions and passion plays are commonly held on Good Friday. Easter Sunday is generally a quiet day, but there are some festive celebrations that take place. In front of the church in Etla people carry religious images draped with flowers. Bands play music, and the people carrying the images dance around as they balance the weight on their shoulders.
Carr. Internacional, Area sin Asignacion de Nombre de Colonia, 68070 Oaxaca, Oax., Mexico
Held every year during the last two weeks of July, the Guelaguetza festival highlights Oaxaca‘s diversity. Representatives of the different ethnic groups of Oaxaca state perform their traditional folk dances and throw items to the crowd that are representative of their region - bread, fruit, baskets... The main presentation takes place in the auditorium on the hill overlooking Oaxaca city, but there are events going on in town and in the surrounding villages as well. You can buy tickets through Ticketmaster Mexico, or get free access to the back section of the auditorium (but line up several hours in advance).
2 de Abril, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca, Oax., Mexico
One of the traditions associated with Day of the Dead in Oaxaca is the creation of colorful sand tapestries. You’ll find them all over the city throughout the week of the holiday, but in the plaza adjacent to La Soledad church, they set up some large ones that are truly monumental, It’s interesting to see when they’re being made, they bring in truckloads of sand and then the young artists painstakingly fill in their design to bring their vision to life. The theme of the tapestries is invariably death, but often there is a playful aspect to these creations. The ephemeral nature of this art form reminds us of the fleeting nature of life. After the holiday has passed, they scoop up the sand and return the plaza to its unadorned condition.
Calle Macedonio Alcalá, Oaxaca, Oax., Mexico
Semana Santa (Holy Week) in Oaxaca is generally made up of rather somber events. In contrast with other holidays, this is the most serious, much more so than Day of the Dead, which is often celebrated in a lighthearted way. The gravity of the events being commemorated are reflected in the observances that take place during this week. The Friday before Easter, which is the day that commemorates Jesus’ crucifixion, is marked by a silent procession along the main pedestrian street in Oaxaca, Calle Macedonio Alcalá. The procession takes place in the late afternoon, and winds its way through the city streets. Observers are asked to remain silent in order to maintain the solemnity of the event. You will notice that some of the participants in this procession wear the pointed hoods which in the United States are strongly associated with the Ku Klux Klan and seen as a racist symbol. In Mexico, as in Spain where these hoods originated (long before the existence of the Klan), they are seen as a symbol of penitence; they are meant to hide the identity of the wearer so that their participation in the procession is not done for show, but as a personal expression of repentance.
Portal del Palacio, OAX_RE_BENITO JUAREZ, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca de Juárez, Oax., Mexico
Mexican Independence is celebrated on the night of September 15 and throughout the day on September 16. On the night of the 15th there are celebrations called “El Grito” (the shout or cry of independence) that take place in the plazas and main squares of cities throughout the country. In Oaxaca people gather in the Zocalo and at 11 pm the governor comes out on the balcony of the Palacio de Gobierno and leads the shout, to which the crowd responds enthusiastically "¡Viva!” after each of his cheers. Following the grito, there are fireworks, and people wave flags, and throw confetti in an enthusiastic display of patriotic feeling.
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