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How Mexico celebrates dead loved ones in style

We talk to people on the streets of Mexico City who are celebrating Day Of The Dead – not Halloween

Over the past few years, some Mexicans have started to fear that Halloween is taking the place of their most revered holiday, Dia de Los Muertes, or "Day Of The Dead" a celebration of those no longer with us. They can now take a breath of relief. Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets of Mexico City for the Day of the Dead festivities, showing that Halloween ain't got shit on the traditional three-day holiday that honours their ancestors. This year, for the first time, the city started the party early with an official parade.

“It's a pre-Hispanic tradition and part of my origin, and my cultural heritage. I love my traditions and my country and this is one of the principal ones that Mexico has,” says Brenda Zacatenco. She along, with her cousin Leticia, painted her face as a catrina – the traditional Mexican skull costume – and stood in the Zocalo, the city’s public square, celebrating death.

Brenda clutched a bouquet of cempasuchitl – or Marigold in the Nahuatl indigenous langage – a flower that is key to the tradition as “it has a smell of death and life. Its intense orange and yellow colour illuminates the altar that we set for our ancestors and helps them return to where we are waiting for them with food, flowers and fruit, and everything that they enjoyed when they were alive,” she said. Throughout Mexico, people lay out ofrendas in their houses with cempasuchitl, photos of their ancestors and all their favourite edible things. As part of the tradition, people also spend the night between November 1 and 2 in the cemetery, celebrating the life of their deceased loved ones at their graveside.

To people like Brenda and Leticia, Halloween is just a party where you get to dress up, void of all meaning.

“We are constantly bombarded by so many foreign things that it is important to preserve what is ours,” says Leticia, who resents that Halloween is becoming increasingly popular. The cousins say it's impossible to prevent children from wearing costumes and enjoying Halloween but that it is their responsibility as young people to keep the Day of the Dead tradition alive and pass it on.

The parade ended in Mexico's City's central public square, the Zocalo, where a live techno group played while thousands of people took selfies in front of dozens of "trajineras," traditional row boats used in canals in Xochimilco, the southern part of the city. The messages written in script on top of cempasuchitl flowers represent a modern day reality, where unnatural deaths are rapidly on the rise. “An end to the deaths of journalists”, “An end to the violation of the rights of LGBTI people”, “An end to deaths for arms trafficking", were just some of the slogans written on the boats.

Moises and Sharon, dressed as skeletons with extremely elaborate body paint beneath their dreadlocks, said that festivals like Day of the Dead both help them forget the city's harsh reality “of problems and bad politics” and allows them to “celebrate life within the cult of death while sharing their culture with the whole world”. For them, Halloween doesn't pose as a risk to the more “spiritual” Day of the Dead. Instead they believe it serves as a complement, which allows them to celebrate more days.

On Saturday night a few hundred thousand cyclists took to Paseo de la Reforma, the city’s main avenue and catrinas pedaled alongside murderers. While Halloween celebrations become increasingly popular in Mexico, it is clear that Day of the Dead is not ready to step down – the beautiful colours of cempasuchitl will keep illuminating the path for Mexicans to reunite with their dead loved ones.