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Flowers, horse race mark Day of the Dead

MEXICO CITY -- Mexicans cleaned the bones of dead relatives and decorated their graves with flowers and candy skulls. In Haiti, voodoo practitioners circled an iron cross at a cemetery and poured moonshine to honor their ancestors. Some Guatemalans held a wild horse race to remember the dead.

Across the Western Hemisphere, people are paying homage to lost relatives in observances that began Thursday on All Saints' Day and continue Friday with All Souls' Day.

The combined celebration known in many places as the Day of the Dead is a particularly colorful and macabre festival in Mexico that harks back to the Aztecs but has become part of Roman Catholic traditions.

“In the European-Christian notion of death, our loved ones go far away and we're left to survive on our own. But in the Mexican case, in Andean countries, the world of the living and the dead co-exist,” said Elio Masferrer, an anthropologist who focuses on religious studies in Mexico.

“The living seek help and protection from the dead, especially on the Day of the Dead,” Masferrer said.

And while in the Judeo-Christian traditions, the dead go to either heaven or hell based on their behavior on Earth, many in Mesoamerica and Andean countries believe they work for the Gods and are supported by their family members still on Earth, he said.

Families across Mexico took picnics to cemeteries, decorated graves with marigolds and sprinkled holy water on the tombs of their loved ones.

A “rezador” or prayer man whispered The Lord's Prayer at a cemetery in Pomuch in the southeastern state of Campeche, while Paula Maria Cuc Euan, dusted off the bones of her parents.

Across the border in Guatemala, jockeys drank alcohol before mounting horses on a ride known as “The Death Race.” It is celebrated every year in Huehuetenango state, some 168 miles (270 kilometers) from the capital, and tradition holds that if a rider falls during the race it's a sign that farmers will enjoy an abundant harvest.

Peruvians flocked to cemeteries, from low-lying ones on the coast overlooking the Pacific to graveyards high in the snow-capped Andes.

Thousands crowded Lima's Virgen de Lourdes cemetery, the country's largest, to leave flower offerings and dance to Andean music. Hilarion Ramos, 79, left a bouquet of Incan lilies at the grave of his son who died in 1979 at age 2.

Musicians played nearby while Lucila Mamani, 62, and her three brothers danced around the grave of her mother.

Food played a big role in Bolivia where many people celebrated the “return” of loved ones with full tables.

Fruit, bread and wine were set on a white tablecloth for Blanca Jimenez's dead family members, who were represented by framed photographs next to lit candles.

The celebration permeates all social circles in Bolivia, including the very top of the government. Officials at the foreign relations department set up a large table with paintings of indigenous heroes and social leaders to “welcome their souls.”

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Artists perform an indigenous dance called Huaylia at the Virgen de Lourdes cemetery, where relatives converge to honor friends and family who have passed on, during the Day of the Dead holiday in Lima, Peru, Thursday, Nov. 1. The holiday honors the deceased on Nov. 1, coinciding with All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day on Nov. 2. (AP)

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