For mask collectors and adventure seekers Oaxaca has it all. There are countless festivals and celebrations many of which involve the use of masks. You’ll even see the use of masks in some weddings and graduation ceremonies!
I’ve traveled to numerous places around the world and Oaxaca, Mexico holds a special place in my heart. I’d go as so far as to call Oaxaca my second home. I’ve spent more time in Oaxaca than anywhere else in the world (other than Lancaster, Pennsylvania, USA where I grew up).
In addition to masks, there are amazing ancient ruins (Zapotec, Monte Alban) just a 30-minute bus ride from the center along with other ruins spread throughout the state. There are jaw dropping geological features, Pacific coast surfing and amazing foods and that’s just the beginning.
There are 570 municipalities in Oaxaca most with their own traditions and unique version of festivals, so you’ll never run out of places and unique experiences in Oaxaca.
Some of the Festivals That Involve Masks
Day of the Dead
The Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos) is probably the most famous celebration in Mexico and Oaxaca is a hotspot for the experience. The celebrations officially happen on November 1st and 2nd, but the experience starts earlier with elaborate decorations that fill the streets and shops with ambiance of the dead. You’ll see mask devils (diablos) dancing on the streets or taking part in solo activities. Unfortunately, you’ll also see the influence of the USA on the celebration with the use of modern masks and Halloween decorations. Remember this is a celebration and if you’re respectful and put some time in to getting to know the locals, you can take part by visiting a graveyard.
Known throughout South America (USA via Mardi Gras, Mexico, and Central America too), Carnival in Oaxaca is different everywhere. You can experience Carnival February 18th – 23rd. There are dancing creatures, devils and more! One of the common aspects of carnival seems to be men covered in oil and/or wearing devil masks with chains and whips. According to the some of the posted information, they represent the Catholic church forcing the indigenous people to accept Christianity. My take is a bit different. I think it’s possible that it represents slavery and exploitation of minorities. I recommend coming and seeing it for yourself and make your own judgment.
Guelaguetza is a one of a kind experience. I think the celebration happens July 21st – 25th. According to locals, Guelaguetza was originally created as a way to bring peace to the different cultures throughout Oaxaca.
Each subdivision/municipalities/culture sends people to central Oaxaca where they show their culture and traditions to each other through parades, dances, and other activities. Many of the activities include masks and/or unique costumes. It’s one of the most crowed times in Oaxaca so if you plan to come for the celebration book your reservations early!
Oaxaca – Guelaguetza Parade
Weddings and other events
I’ve been told it you need to book your wedding way in advance if you want to host it in Oaxaca (Santo Domingo church) and for good reason. There are multiple weddings that happen every weekend and they are a sign to see. There are musicians that play, huge figurines, the bride and groom, along with the procession that moves through the streets. It’s a basically a little parade!
Active Mask Makers
The Active Mask Makers section was written by Arantxa.
SANTA MARÍA TILCAJETE
Margarito Melchor Fuentes workshop – Founder, is 72 years old. His family has been making masks and other items for over 30 years. He and his son are in charge of making all of the masks. His son with the same name Margarito Melchor, who is 45 years old, started when he was 15 years old. Margarito Junior takes three days-ish to finish a diablo mask. In one month, they typically carve around four masks. Over the years they have honed their wood carving skills. and for the pair, creativity is the base for creating a good mask.
About his projects:
One of their masks is exhibited in Bangkok Museum. His most creative project was made a mask for a lawyer, the base of the mask was the face owner. Masks range in costs: between $200-$1,000 pesos.
Born and raised in Zaachila Jesús Abraham Vázquez is a Paper and plastic artist whose job has been making self-sustaining projects in the town. Four or five years ago they started doing courses of “making your own mask” for the community to promote the tradition, art and culture in children and young people. The masks that they used are just for the carnival on the 21st day. Carnival is a tradition before the Easter holidays for teasing and having fun, it’s related to the pre-Hispanic and the conquest and religion.
The masks are made with paper maché, first they make a face mold with cement or clay, also they used wax or baby oil to avoid wounds. Next step is adding six or seven layers of newspaper, after that they exaggerated the diablo´s expression with more clay or mud. Everyone makes their personal mask with the mold of their faces. The time for making mask is two days to make molds and it lasts two hours to paste the paper.
The traditional diablo masks of Zaachila are red with black but now they’re made of different sizes and colors so that young people feel part of the creativity. They use a diablo face that has three parts: the mask, hair and crown. The price range of the masks goes from $200 to $500 pesos.
With the masks the guys that show up dressed as diablos make two things more: the little doves (palomitas) that are Styrofoameggs with tiny decorations, these are gifts for girls and the other decoration is the Lira, a banner which is a present for the bride, is a symbol of marriage.
If you enjoy travel, unique cultures, unique geology, wonderful cuisine, great weather, and mask collecting Oaxaca is a great place to start your adventure! Amazing festivals like Day of the Dead, a vibrant community and talented mask makers make Oaxaca a premier destination. If you’re thinking about traveling to Oaxaca, please feel free to reach to me through the contact us section and I’ll share more tips and ideas about Oaxaca with you.