As an English teacher in Mexico, I was lucky enough to be in the stunning colonial city of Oaxaca on the first two days of November.
With a number of language schools and private teaching opportunities around every corner, Oaxaca is an exciting city to be in for someone in my profession. English teachers are spoiled for choice here. Many locals are eager to learn English and I’ve often been approached in the street with teaching requests. My dentist even offered to trade English classes for her children in exchange for dental work!
Through my teaching, I’m able to live comfortably here. I also get to meet interesting students from all walks of life. With short working days and ample vacation time, I’ve also plenty of opportunity to take part in the city’s numerous festivals and events.
Like the Day of the Dead…
Twelve-piece brass bands wielding dented and tarnished tubas and trumpets belt out riotous numbers as mourners and celebrators dance around gravestones in the darkened cemetery. The crowd, lit only by a sea of candles, is drinking a type of hot chocolate laced with mescal; a drink similar to tequila made from the maguey plant.
It’s hard not to feel overwhelmed by the mix of emotion. Joy and grief mingle in the air, pulling the crowd back and forth like a wave. Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead as it’s known in the West, is an infectious combination of Halloween, a funeral and Mardi Gras.
A huge holiday in Oaxaca, Mexico, the celebrations to mark Dia de los Muertos can be seen in many ways all over town. Colorful skeletons and skulls are everywhere. Some are made out of candy, others of clay, papier-mâché or wood. These calaveras have just as much personality as their flesh and blood counterparts and are famous worldwide for their gaudy humoristic style.
In the graveyards, tombs are turned into altars and elaborately decorated with marigold flowers, a special bread called pan de muerto (bread of the dead) and all of the food, drink, possessions and vices that the loved one who has passed on enjoyed the most. It’s believed that these things will coax the spirits into passing back into our world to join in on the festivities.
Despite its name, this holiday is much more about life than death. It’s a time for celebrating the cycle of life and inviting the dearly departed in on the party for a couple nights of the year. With thousands of people, some so convincingly dressed as glamorous skeletons or horned demons that your mind starts to wonder if some of the merrymakers really are from the afterworld, Day of the Dead is a celebration like no other.
Apart from Day of the Dead, Oaxaca hosts the traditional indigenous dance festival known as “The Guelaguetza” each July. December is an especially festive month with “The Night of the Radishes” festival, Our Lady of Guadalupe Day, and various Christmas celebrations. In spring, the streets fill for “Semana Santa” and Easter celebrations.
Life as an English teacher in Mexico is so different to how it would be if I were living and working back home. I’m getting to see the world, to experience new cultures and I’m getting paid to help people better themselves. I wouldn’t swap my career for the world.
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