Few places in the world celebrate their dead with such fervor and creativity as Mexico, where the practice of remembering lost loved ones involves costume parties, the creation of elaborate altars, and family gatherings at candle-lit cemeteries.
Those are just some of the elements that make Mexico's Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead so unique.
The celebration, which takes place on November 1st and November 2nd, gives participants a chance to welcome the dead back into the realm of the living, and to remember the lives of those who are gone.
It combines indigenous rites, Catholic traditions and now also has a touch of Halloween, with children trick or treating in costumes, and asking for a gift to go into their plastic pumpkin baskets.
On Thursday, the first day of festivities, we visited the Panteon de Dolores, a cemetery in Mexico City, that is frequented by families who gather around the graves of their loved ones, decorate their tombs with sweet smelling cempasuchil flowers and sometimes hire musicians to play for the dead.
We also took a three hour drive to San Andres Mixquic, a small town where Dia de los Muertos is celebrated with a big street party, and elaborate altars placed in the homes of local residents that welcome dead relatives back home.
Above, check out a video of the Dolores cemetery, and below some pictures from the festivities at San Andres Mixquic. Captions explain the significance of each tradition.
Flowers and food are supposed to entice the dead to visit the living. This decorated tombstone in Mexico City's Dolores Cemetery displays a sign that welcomes its owner to visit the living for a day.
In the town of San Andres Mixquic revelers take a walk in the local cemetery. This student was selling her paper mache skull for 800 pesos (US $60).
A little boy sports traditional Dia de los Muertos facepaint in San Andres Mixquic. After I took his picture he asked us me for a small "donation."
At night graves in San Andres Mixquic are lit with candles.
Lucia Ochoa [right] flew from Fresno, California just to attend day of the dead celebrations in Mexico this weekend. "This does not compare to Halloween," Ochoa said. "This is not about just getting dressed up, it's about the people you're remembering. There's more of a spiritual connection here."
Juan Carlos Jimenez set up an elaborate altar in his home in Mixquic. The altar has offering for his deceased grandparents, and for a brother who died when he was seven.
Jimenez said he changes up offerings on the altar during the two day and three nights celebrations. On the first day there is food for children, on the second, alcohol and food for adults.
Paper lamps lined the streets of Mixquic on Thursday night. These lamps help the dead to find their way home.
Families in Mixquic and other towns in the area, set up bonfires right outside their homes, as they gather round to wait for the arrival of their dead relatives.
A festive atmosphere took over Mixquic on Thursday night and the street that led to the cemetery was lined with food stalls. Roasted quail was one of the local specialties on sale.
The party in Mixquic continued into the early hours of Friday.