Every year millions of people in Mexico and certain parts of the United States and Central America unite on Nov. 2 to celebrate the Day of the Dead.
People honor Dia de los Muertos by wearing wooden skulls called calacas, adorn the graves of their deceased relatives and dance in their honor.
In addition they create altars which are decorated with sugar skulls engraved with the name of the relatives, flowers and photographs.
The day is celebrated differently depending on what part of Mexico you find yourself in.
According to Carlos Miller of the Arizona Republic, in rural Mexico, people visit the cemetery where their loved ones are buried and decorate gravesites with marigold flowers and candles.
They bring toys for dead children and bottles of tequila to adults and sit on picnic blankets next to gravesites and eat the favorite food of their loved ones.
In the United States and in Mexico’s larger cities, families build altars in their homes, dedicating them to the dead.
They surround these altars with flowers, food and pictures of the deceased.
People also celebrate by meeting in urban centers and participating in a number of activities including street performances and parades.
The ritual of honoring the dead has been around for over 3000 years, stemming from the Aztec civilization.
According to Miller the Aztecs and other Meso-American civilizations kept skulls as trophies and displayed them during the ritual. The skulls were used to symbolize death and rebirth. The skulls were used to honor the dead, whom the Aztecs and other Meso-American civilizations believed came back to visit during the month long ritual.
Unlike the Spaniards, who viewed death as the end of life, the natives viewed it as the continuation of life. Instead of fearing death, they embraced it.
To them, life was a dream and only in death did they become truly awake. This is a shared belief with other indigenous cultures, and some Native American tribes also celebrate the day of the dead.