Children receive gits of chocolate coffins bearing their own names, sugar skulls grin merrily, and families enjoy picnics in the cemetery to sing and chat to the corpses there. There are all part of the extraordinary festivities that take place on Mexico's El Dia de los Muertas, the Day of the Dead.
Mexicans believe that on this day the dead return briefly to the land of the living - and since their visit is but a short one, they deserve a joyful reception.
The Day of the Dead - held on what other countries call All Souls' Day - is no more than an enjoyable reminder of the brevity and insignificance of life. The Mexican author Octavio Paz even goes as far as to say that: 'The Mexican frequents death, mocks it, caresses it, sleeps with it, celebrates it.'
Such an attitude has its roots deep in Mexico's history. Between the 3rd and 8th centuries AD, long before the rise of the Aztec civilisation there, the Totonaca Indians believed that the 'underworld' of the dead was a parallel world to this. A dead person would repeat his previous existence, even marry the same partner as before. Dying was nothing to be feared; and, as if to prove it, the Totonaca god of death was always portrayed as a skeleton wearing a broad grin.