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Why is Día de los Muertos different from Halloween?

The celebration of life and death has roots in Aztec rituals.

HOUSTON — So why is Día de los Muertos an important holiday?

For the uninitiated Día de los Muertos -- also known as the Day of the Dead -- is not the Mexican version of Halloween. Though somewhat related, Día de los Muertos is not a holiday about all things scary. Instead, it is a celebration of both life and death and a chance to show love and respect for family members who have passed on. Often, it is an explosion of color and joy and a reminder that death is part of the human experience.

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Typically celebrated in Latin America and parts of the U.S. with large Hispanic populations, Día de los Muertos has its roots in indigenous Aztec rituals along with Catholicism. In fact, it falls on All Saints Day and All Souls Day -- minor holidays in the Catholic calendar. According to National Geographic, the Aztec people considered mourning the dead disrespectful. The dead were considered members of the community who should be honored and remembered.

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So how is Día de los Muertos celebrated? The centerpiece is an altar called an ofrenda. It is loaded with offerings to welcome spirits back and is covered with family photos and candles. Marigolds are used to guide souls from their place of rest. Sugar skulls decorate the ofrenda and gravesites, but can be given to the living as a sign of appreciation. 

Feliz Día de los Muertos.

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