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Traditions connected with the holiday include building private altars called ofrendas, honoring the deceased using calaveras, aztec marigolds, and the favorite foods and beverages of the departed, and visiting graves with these as gifts.
The holiday has spread throughout the world, being absorbed within other deep traditions for honoring the dead.
The multi-day holiday focuses on gatherings of family and friends to pray for and remember friends and family members who have died, and help support their spiritual journey.
In 2008, the tradition was inscribed in the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.
Prior to Spanish colonization in the 16th century, the celebration took place at the beginning of summer.
Gradually, it was associated with October 31, November 1 and November 2 to coincide with the Western Christian triduum of Allhallowtide: All Saints' Eve, All Saints' Day, and All Souls' Day.
Originally, the Day of the Dead as such was not celebrated in northern Mexico, where it was unknown until the 20th century because its indigenous people had different traditions.
The people and the church rejected it as a day related to syncretizing pagan elements with Catholic Christianity.
in Anglophone countries, a back-translation of its original name, Día de Muertos.
It is particularly celebrated in Mexico where the day is a public holiday.
November 1 is generally referred to as Día de los Inocentes ("Day of the Innocents") but also as Día de los Angelitos ("Day of the Little Angels"); November 2 is referred to as Día de los Muertos or Día de los Difuntos ("Day of the Dead").
On October 31, All Hallows Eve, the children make a children's altar to invite the angelitos (spirits of dead children) to come back for a visit.
The festivities were dedicated to the goddess known as the "Lady of the Dead", corresponding to the modern La Calavera Catrina.