(City of Raleigh)

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — If you’ve seen Disney’s “Coco,” then you have some idea about Día de los Muertos or the Day of the Dead.

It’s an annual event steeped in tradition and history among Mexicans and Central Americans dating back to the ancient civilizations of the Aztec, Maya and Toltec, according to the Smithsonian Institute.

It is a time to commemorate loved ones who have passed away. Nov. 1 is often celebrated as a day to remember children, and Nov. 2 is for honoring adults.

This isn’t Halloween

Halloween is Oct. 31, of course. However, many communities celebrate both, the Smithsonian said.

It has origins in Mexico and Central America

We’ve mentioned where the Day of the Dead came from but there’s more to that story.

Those ancient civilizations had certain months dedicated to remembering the dead, based on whether the deceased was an adult or a child.

After the Spanish arrived, this ritual of commemorating the dead was merged with two Spanish holidays: All Saints Day on Nov. 1 and All Soul’s Day Nov. 2.

A celebration of life

Even with its grim moniker, this is not a time to wear all black and put on Cure albums to dwell on death. Rather, it is a time to remember the lives of those who have departed.

Death, for those ancient cultures, was looked at as part of the journey of life. They believed that a new life came from death. This mirrors the cyclical nature of agriculture, whereby crops grow from the ground where the last crop lies buried.

Yes, you can dance!

Día de los Muertos is filled with music and dancing. Some popular dances include La Danza de los Viejitos or the dance of the little old men. This dance entails boys and young men dressing as old men, walking around crouched over then suddenly jumping up in an energetic dance, according to the Smithsonian. Another dance is La Danza de los Tecuanes, the dance of the jaguars, depicts farm workers hunting a jaguar.

The ofrenda is essential

Remember the ofrenda in “Coco?” Remember when Miguel and his dog, Dante, are near it and … ah, no spoilers here!

The ofrenda, or altar, is composed of mementos, photographs and objects of loved ones who have died and is intended to honor and remember their lives. This is an installation by artist Amalia Mesa-Bains, titled “An Ofrenda for Dolores del Rio” © 1991, Amalia Mesa-Bains. (Courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum)

It is often the most recognized symbol of Día de los Muertos, the Smithsonian said. It is a temporary altar on which photos of deceased loved ones are placed along with cherished items of theirs, as well as, objects that act as reminders of their lives.

The elements of the ofrenda

Every ofrenda also includes the four elements: water, wind, earth, and fire.

  • Water is left in a pitcher so the spirits can quench their thirst.
  • Papel picado, or traditional paper banners, represent the wind.
  • Earth is represented by food, especially bread.
  • Candles are often left in the form of a cross to represent the cardinal directions, so the spirits can find their way.

Looking for a local event?

The City of Raleigh Museum is having its 7th annual Día de los Muertos event from 6-9 p.m. on Friday.

There will be music, dancing, the Day of The Dead Altar, Day of the Dead Bread, hot chocolate, face painting, crafts, and much more.

The museum is at 220 Fayetteville St., Suite 100.

Find more information and visuals about Día de los Muertos here