Many people believe that during the Day of the Dead, it is easier for the souls of the departed to visit the living. People go to cemeteries to communicate with the souls of the departed, and build private altars, containing the favorite foods and beverages, as well as photos and memorabilia, of the departed. The intent is to encourage visits by the souls, so that the souls will hear the prayers and the comments of the living directed to them. Celebrations can take a humorous tone, as celebrants remember funny events and anecdotes about the departed.More info on Cherokee Street's 2009 Dia de los Muertos celebration by clicking here.
Plans for the day are made throughout the year, including gathering the goods to be offered to the dead. During the two-day period, families usually clean and decorate graves; most visit the cemeteries where their loved ones are buried and decorate their graves with ofrendas (offerings), which often include orange marigolds called "cempasúchitl" (originally named cempoalxochitl, Nahuatl for "twenty (i.e., many) flowers"). In modern Mexico, this name is sometimes replaced with the term "Flor de Muerto" ("Flower of the Dead"). These flowers are thought to attract souls of the dead to the offerings.
Toys are brought for dead children (los angelitos, or "the little angels"), and bottles of tequila, mezcal or pulque or jars of atole for adults. Families will also offer trinkets or the deceased's favorite candies on the grave. Ofrendas are also put in homes, usually with foods such as candied pumpkin, pan de muerto ("bread of the dead"), sugar skulls and beverages such as atole. The ofrendas are left out in the homes as a welcoming gesture for the deceased. Some people believe the spirits of the dead eat the "spiritual essence" of the ofrendas food, so even though the celebrators eat the food after the festivities, they believe it lacks nutritional value. Pillows and blankets are left out so that the deceased can rest after their long journey. In some parts of Mexico, such as the towns of Mixquic, Pátzcuaro and Janitzio, people spend all night beside the graves of their relatives. In many places people have picnics at the gravesite as well.