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Sugar skulls are displayed at a market stall in Oaxaca, Mexico.

El Dia de los Muertos (Spanish for "the Day of the Dead") is a holiday related to Halloween celebrated in Mexico on November 1 and November 2. The holiday is a time for people to remember their deceased relatives, often cleaning and decorating their graves. November 1 is generally considered the time to remember people who died while they were still children and November 2 is the day for honoring dead adults. Some people believe that spirits of the dead return to their old homes during the festival.

The symbols most commonly associated with the festival are the skeleton and the skull. Candies in the shape of skulls, known as sugar skulls, are a popular food during the holiday, eaten by the living and left as offerings to the dead.

Although it is a festival honoring the dead, it is generally considered to be a fun time of year and a celebration of life.


Mexican Day of the Dead customs can be traced back at least two thousand years. Before the coming of the Spanish, it was common to keep skulls as trophies and display them as part of rituals symbolic of death and rebirth. The entire ninth month of the Aztec calendar, roughly corresponding to August, was dedicated to a goddess known as the Lady of the Dead.

Following colonization by the Spanish, customs associated with the Aztec month of the dead were moved to November 1 and November 2, the Roman Catholic All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day.


Catrinas 2

Skeleton decorations for el Día de los Muertos.

Many Mexicans visit the cemeteries where their deceased relatives are buried during the holiday. Graves are cleaned and decorated with flowers. Toys are left on the graves of deceased children and bottles of alcohol on those of adults. Sugar skulls and the deceased's favorite candy are left for both adults and children. Many people have a picnic in the graveyard. In some regions of Mexico it is a tradition to spend all night in the cemetery near to loved ones' graves.

Altars honoring deceased relatives are often built in homes. The altars often consist of fakes skulls, photographs of the deceased and the deceased's favorite food and drink. Such altars are often built in schools and government offices too. The altars are intended to encourage the spirits of the dead to return and to hear what their family and friends are saying about them.

Tables laden with alcohol and food, usually including traditional bread, candied pumpkin and sugar skulls, are often placed in houses to welcome returning spirits of the departed. Blankets and pillows are often left out, so that ghosts can take a rest after their long journey back to the land of the living.

Newspapers print mock obituaries of living people, accompanied by caricatures which show the people as skeletons. Some people also write mock epitaphs for their friends.

In some areas of Mexico, the festivities, which last until November 2, begin on Halloween. Mexican children, particularly in cities, have begun dressing in costumes and going from house to house trick-or-treating for candy. Instead of "Trick or treat" (or a Spanish equivalent of the phrase), the children usually say "Queremos Halloween" (Spanish for "We want Halloween").

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