An exhibit at Kansas University's Museum of Anthropology documents a Hispanic celebration called Los Dias de Los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead. The celebration occurs around Halloween, but instead of portraying death as morbid, the Day of the Dead is about the happy reunion of the living with the spirits of their deceased loved ones.
Day of the Dead has existed since the pre-Hispanic Aztec era and is still observed Nov. 1-2 in Mexico. Since the early 1970s, the celebration has spread among many U.S. cultures, most likely because of the influx of Hispanic and Latin American immigrants.
Traditionally, home altars are constructed of candles and flowers (marigolds are the symbol of death). The altars are adorned with candies, incense, food, toys, photographs of the deceased and their favorite objects. Bread of the dead is baked, typically in the shaped of an oval, the shape of the soul.
Villagers parade through town dressed as skeletons and ghosts, carrying an open casket into which they throw candles, oranges and flowers.
Families clean and decorate the gravesites of their loved ones. If the dead are buried above ground, their tombs are cleaned and painted bright colors. Children's graves are decorated with balloons and streamers. Many families remain in the cemetery through the night, listening to music and having a picnic.
The spirits of children return to the gravesite first, typically at noon Oct. 31. At noon Nov. 1, the souls of the children leave and the spirits of adults visit. The adult spirits remain until noon Nov. 2. People called mummers can be seen on the streets this day to chase stubborn souls back to their realm.
Images of calaveras, or skeletons, decorate papier-mache figurines, costumes, puppets and other objects. Dioramas often depict skeletons involved in everyday activities, such as changing a car tire or getting their hair styled at a beauty salon.
The museum's "Day of the Dead" exhibit runs through Nov. 9. Hours are from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays and 1 p.m to 5 p.m. Sundays.