The costumes of Dia de Muertos are a continual delight, each face a unique and personal interpretation of José Guadalupe Posada's original catrina. Meanwhile, the storefronts and residences add to the atmosphere with their own peculiar decorations; the city is rich with skulls and marigolds.
The holiday traces its root back to Aztec celebrations of the death goddess. Spanish attempts to stamp out the pagan tradition were unsuccessful and the best they could do was merge it with Catholic All Saint's Day. Today, Day of the Dead celebrations embrace Mexican folklore, an important part of which is expressed through regional folk dances. Costumed in provincial attire but unified by the ubiquitous catrina makeup (decorative skull paintings), these dances take on a supernatural aura.
The centerpieces of the holiday, however, are the ofrendas: decorative altars composed of ancestral photographs, flowers, candles, food, drink, incense, memorabilia, and other offerings to the departed. The most spectacular ofrendas are constructed near central plazas, with images crafted from a kaleidoscope of flowers, seeds, rice, salt, wood shavings, leaves, charcoal, and other natural pigments. Belief that bright colors and floral aromas help guide the spirits of the dead to these altars leads to a friendly one-upmanship with each display trying to outshine its neighbors. Fittingly for a holiday that celebrates the inevitable, before the day ends these molecular creations are swept up by public works employees, their order and beauty lost to the colorless mix of the dustpan.