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Family honors ancestors with Day of the Dead

Sisters Laura and Sanjuana Macias spent Saturday morning preparing an altar in remembrance of their dead ancestors. The three-tiered display consists of rolls, sweet potatoes, a pumpkin, oranges, bananas, corn, apples and salt; water, tequila and beer; and cigarettes. At the top of the altar is a portrait of Jesus flanked by two angel statues.

They believe that the spirits of their loved ones who have died will come and partake of the feast that is offered. Today, the spirits of children who have passed, whom they call little angels, will come between the hours of midnight and 6 a.m., explained the Macias sisters. The day after, on Monday, the adults will visit.

The tradition is called Los Dias de los Muertos, or the Days of the Dead, and is observed by cultures in Latin America, including Mexico, where the Macias sisters, as well as Laura's husband, Luis Medellin, were born.

The Macias-Medellin altar is erected specifically for the sisters' maternal grandparents - Melchor Puente and Claudia Coronado; Luis' paternal grandparents - Marcello Macias and Theresa Rodriguez, and brother, Jose Medellin, who died as a baby; and many uncles.

The Macias sisters said they observed the Days of the Dead growing up in the Mexican state of San Luis Potosi and since they've been in the United States - Sunjuana for 10 years and Laura for three years - they've continued the custom for their children to learn.

"This is really traditions crossing the border," said Sanjuana.

In Mexico, Los Dias de los Muertos is celebrated somewhat differently than in the U.S. The sisters recall not only preparing an altar but also attending mass in a chapel at the cemetery where their family members are buried. After the mass, they would go to the graves of their loved ones. For the children who have died, they would bring balloons, toys and their favorite food and for the adults they would bring only food.

The occasion is mixture of emotions, said the sisters. It is happy because families reminisce about the good times they had with their loved ones, but sad because they are gone. Nonetheless, families visiting their dead relatives often enjoy music, singing, games and food.

The Macias-Medellin altar is decorated with colored paper to welcome the dead, explained the sisters, and a Rosary is prayed the evening before Los Dias de los Muertos.

"It's important to keep your traditions and not let them go by the wayside," Laura said.