There wasn’t a grave in the sprawling cemetery that wasn’t covered lovingly with marigolds. Thousands of candles flickered.

Families gathered around the final resting place of loved ones where they would stay until dawn. Small fires burned to take the edge off a cool night. The air was fresh like autumn but without the dread of upcoming winter. In the distance mariachi bands played.

This scene is repeated each year during the Day of the Dead festival (Día de los Muertos) in Mexico on November 1. The belief is that the souls of the dead return to earth for the night to be reunited with loved ones. Families set up altars and decorate graves with marigolds, candles and images of the departed. Offerings of food, drink and other earthly items the deceased liked are left.

The traditions of the day of the dead are a mixture of pre-Hispanic beliefs and Catholicism, religious fusion at its finest. It is not a time to mourn but to celebrate and honor the dead. Participants were proud of their artistic tributes on which they spent most of the day preparing. Outsiders were welcome and when asked politely people did not mind photographs being taken.

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