Where the rest of the Christian world observes All Souls' Day and All Saints' Day with solemn masses and quiet visits to cemeteries, Mexico does it a bit differently. The country's famous Los Dias de Los Muertos ('The Days of the Dead') is a remnant of pre-colonial days when ancestors would be remembered with a festival that was decidedly high-spirited- with sacrifices, feasts and impressive ceremonies being part of the celebrations. With the coming of the Spanish, this was merged with the Catholic All Souls' Day and All Saints' Day observances- and the result was the 'Days of the Dead'.
Preparations for Los Dias de Los Muertos begin weeks in advance, with special altars being set up all over. Families buy commemorative items- paper skulls, plastic skeletons, paper lanterns, and other spooky stuff, all of it centering around the theme of the dead. As in many other festivals, food is an integral part of the celebrations, and it too tends to be fairly eerie: white chocolate skeletons and marzipan coffins are just part of the bonanza!
In many parts of Mexico the festival is divided into two distinct parts: November 1 is devoted to the remembrance of dead children, a rather touching occasion; the second day, November 2, is the more festive day, marked by street festivals and parades. The festivities, instead of being a mockery of death as many would believe, is actually a way of expressing affection for the dead- an invitation for them (so to say) to party as they did during their lifetime. It's an exuberant, yet emotional, reunion with those who've passed on- and a celebration, in some ways, of the intricate relationship between life and death.