Dia de los Muertos has been around a lot longer than most people think. It has nothing to do with Halloween, but because it is so close to it, Dia de los Muertos has become something completely different in the United States than it is in Mexico.

Dia de los Muertos was a pre-Columbian ritual that honored ancestors. After indigenous people were conquered by Europeans, the conquerors took the native beliefs and folded them into Christianity so that natives would have an easier time assimilating into the new European culture.

Dia de los Muertos altars reflect that mixing of cultures. Flowers, food, candles, items that belonged to a loved one who has passed on, and even liquor and cigarettes are gathered and placed on altars at the gravesites of family members, not to be consumed by the deceased but rather the deceased essentially absorbs the essence of the offerings. People who don't understand the meaning behind these offerings think that the deceased are being worshipped, but that isn't the case. They are only being remembered and honored.

Here are five of the most common items you'll find on a Dia de los Muertos altar:

1. Photos of the deceased - Just like you like to look through old photos to remind you of good times, so do the deceased.

2. Flowers, usually marigolds - Marigolds are used because their bright orange and yellow colors symbolize the sun. Many families lay out a path to guide the deceased to where their family is waiting with food and drink.

3. Favorite foods of the deceased - The journey from the afterlife is a hard one so that's why you put out your loved ones favorite foods and drink so they can refresh themselves.

4. Candles - Your loved one may need help finding their way from the afterlife so candles on the altar help them get back to you.

5. Sugar skulls - Believe it or not, these sugar skulls are not to be eaten. They are meant to be inexpensive but festive decorations for the altar and in many cases, the names of the deceased are written on the forehead of the sugar skulls.

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