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Thousands mark ‘Day of the Dead’ with rituals, flowers

Families gathered around the graves of their loved ones at the Virgen de Lourdes cemetery in Lima on Friday.

Rodrigo Abd/Associated Press

Families gathered around the graves of their loved ones at the Virgen de Lourdes cemetery in Lima on Friday.

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 race of horses to remember the dead.

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Across the Western Hemisphere, people are paying homage to lost relatives in observances that began Thursday on All Saints Day and continued 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 goes 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, many in Mesoamerica and Andean countries believe they work for the Gods and are supported by their family members still on Earth, he said.

‘‘It’s none of this playing a harp in a cloud, family members have to feed them and . . . they will leave their favorite food at the table and leave the door open so they can walk in,’’ Masferrer said.

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

Guatemala, jockeys drank alcohol before mounting horses on a ride known as ‘‘The Death Race.’’ It is celebrated every year in Huehuetenango state, 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 to graveyards high in the snow-capped Andes.

Thousands crowded Lima’s Virgen de Lourdes cemetery, to leave flower offerings and dance to Andean music.

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