Many customs are associated with The Day of the Dead celebration. In the home an altar is made with an offering of food upon it. It is believed that the dead partake of the food in spirit and the living eat it later. The 'ofrendas'- offerings, are beautifully arranged with flowers, marigolds (zempasuchitl) which are the traditional flower of the dead. There is a candle placed for each dead soul, and they are adorned in some manner. Incense is also used. Mementos, photos, and other remembrances of the dead are also adorning the ofrenda.
It is also traditional in some areas to go and see the play Don Juan Tenorio. Paper mache and sugar skulls are popular, as are cardboard coffins from which a skeleton can be made to jump out. Special masks are also worn, allowing a person to achieve a facial expression for which they feel they are inadequate to achieve.
Also popular are 'calaveras,' like an obituary, which are used as placards. Among the prominent people in the government or society, although they are still alive, 'Calaveras'--obituaries are published in verse style in the local newspapers. These verses describe the character of the individual and the deeds he/she has done for the community. They all have a jovial or satirical tone.
A popular type of decoration used to commemorate the holiday in Mexico is the tissue banner. The most famous artisans live in the 'Mestizo' village of San Salvador Huixcolotla. They have been making banners here for over 90 years. At first the banners were made using scissors, but since the 1940's they have been cut with tiny chisels, 'fierritos.' Today skilled artisans use more than 50 different chisels to make various cuts in up to 50 sheets of tissue paper at a time.
The traditional patterns in the rural villages included angels, birds, the chalice, and crosses, but never skeletons. The popular pattern in Mexico City represents skeletons in various activities.
Traditionally, the colored banners are displayed on October 31, the day the angelitos arrive, at 3 p.m. On November 1, the angelitos depart and the animas arrive. When this occurs the colored banners are removed, and the black and white ones are displayed.