Mexico's Cemeteries Host Día de los Muertos Parties

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"Each state in Mexico celebrates Day of the Dead slightly differently," noted Mrs. Vasques Hereda's husband, who wandered over from their nearby flower stall. "Tourists are interested too. So we put up that sign," he added, referring to the orange poster board above the stall's awning.

The hand-lettered sign spells out each item used in the traditional ofrenda, or offering:

• Incense symbolizes union with nature and is also said to awaken the spirits of the dead through aroma;

• water and salt correspond to purity and innocence;

• candles symbolize light and immortality; and

pan de muerto (bread of the dead) represents the tombs.

Votive Altars

Many families here in Mexico will have traveled great distances to cram into their hometown cemeteries for today's all-night parties.

But others, primarily middle class urbanites, create memorial votive altars in their homes, offices, or shops. The ofrendas are created on a shelf or table, decorated with flowers, and laden with gifts to the dead ancestors, whose photos hold pride of place.

Fruit and flowers are neatly laid out amid candles, incense, water, bone-shaped bread, and miniature versions of a dead relative's favorite treats—a cigar, cigarettes, liquor, or candies.

Mexico City resident Isabel Diaz shares her family house with her octogenarian mother and a son in his twenties. After arranging an ofrenda honoring deceased relatives, the family lit candles two days ago to welcome the souls of dead children, los angelitos.

But the Diazes won't be partying graveside tonight. "We went to the cemetery last Sunday, because [tonight] it will be too crowded," Isabel Diaz said.

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