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What is Dia de los Muertos and when is it celebrated?

Published: Tuesday, October 03, 2017 @ 10:29 AM
Updated: Tuesday, October 03, 2017 @ 10:30 AM

It’s not quite Halloween, despite its outward appearance. And, while the dead are involved in Dia de los Muertos, it’s in anything but a macabre way.

Don’t be fooled by the faces painted to look like skulls, or the altars full of food drink for the spirits.

This celebration of the dead comes with a dose of family, not spooks.

>> Got a question about the news? See our explainers here  

Dia de los Muertos is a tradition in Mexico that is being celebrated more often in the United States. The celebration, which begins late on Oct. 31, brings families together to celebrate their departed loved ones with feasts, altars, decorations and visits to the cemetery.

Here’s a look at the two-day celebration.

What is Dia de los Muertos?

Dia de los Muertos is a celebration of deceased loved ones. It is believed that the gates of heaven are opened every year late on Oct. 31, and the spirits of deceased children are allowed to reunite with their families for 24 hours.

Nov. 2 is when the spirits of deceased adults join their families.

How did it start?

The celebration is centuries old. It was begun in Mexico and is widely celebrated there still. Dia de los Muertos is a blend of Aztec celebrations honoring the dead and Spanish Catholic beliefs.  

How is it celebrated?

The observance of Dia de los Muertos is elaborate. Altars are constructed and decorated with candles, flowers, food and drink. Toys are left for deceased children, and cigarettes and mescal, an alcoholic beverage similar to tequila, are left for deceased adults.

To finish the altar, or ofrendas, skulls made of sugar and decorated with frosting are put into place. The sugar skulls are often purchased at open-air markets.

The altars and accompanying feasts can be expensive, but celebrants sacrifice and save to put on the annual celebrations to honor their departed loved ones.  

The celebrations begin in the home, but by the afternoon of Nov.2, the festivities move to the cemetery, where family members clean graves, listen to music and talk about the dead.

In some places, there are street parties or citywide festivals.

What are sugar skulls?

Sugar skulls are made from molds and decorated with frosting. They are placed on the altars in the homes of those celebrating Dia de los Muertos. Sometimes the skulls are eaten, but more often they are used as decorations for altars.

Sugar art is believed to have been brought to the New World by Italian missionaries in the 17th century.  

Where is it celebrated?

The Day of the Dead is celebrated in many Latin American countries in addition to Mexico.

When is it?    

Dia de los Muertos begins on Nov. 1 and ends on Nov. 2.

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Diplomas temporarily stripped from 2 students who wore military cords at graduation

Published: Wednesday, June 20, 2018 @ 3:42 AM

File photo of military service members saluting.
skeeze / Pixabay.com
File photo of military service members saluting.(skeeze / Pixabay.com)

Two North Carolina students said they had their diplomas taken away because they wore military cords around their necks at graduation.

>> Woman graduates from Naval Academy 5 years after struggling to get ex-NFL player dad's signature

The two graduates wore the special cords during graduation to symbolize their enlistment in the U.S. Army.

Their celebration turned to punishment after they wore their cords Friday at West Bladen High School in Bladen County, located in eastern North Carolina.

A school administrator said they broke the rules because their cords weren't pre-approved.

>> Read more trending news 

"Ms. Kelly came up to them and asked them if she could see the diplomas, and they handed them to her and she kept them," a mother, Wendy Paris, said. "I don't have a problem with rules and policies, but some of them are ridiculous."

Paris said she was able to get her son's diploma back the day after graduation.

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21-year-old drowned trying to save child at the beach, family says

Published: Wednesday, June 20, 2018 @ 2:05 AM

File photo of Panama City Beach, Florida.
justinhatl / Pixabay.com
File photo of Panama City Beach, Florida.(justinhatl / Pixabay.com)

Friends and family of a 21-year-old Cartersville, Georgia, man who drowned at Florida's Panama City Beach over Father's Day weekend say he died a hero.

>> Watch the news report here

Tony Jackson Jr. was on vacation swimming with friends when a strong current pulled him under.

>> 2 Georgia men drown over Father’s Day weekend in separate incidents in Gulf of Mexico

WSB-TV's Michael Seiden spoke with Jackson's friend, Muhammad Qasim, who was at the beach with him and witnessed the accident. 

Qasim told Seiden that just before they planned to leave, Jackson had turned back in the water to try to save a child who had fallen off a float.

>> What parents need to know about 'dry' and 'secondary' drowning

“I was right next to him in the water, but when he tried to go toward the kid and the wave hit him, the wave just dragged him back 10 feet," Qasim said. "There was nothing I could’ve done.”

Rescue crews recovered his body two hours later. 

>> Children may face drowning danger 24 hours after hitting the pool

Jackson's family is now trying to raise enough money to fly his body back to Georgia so they can bury him. They say it will cost around $1,700. 

“The main thing is to just get him home; that’s the biggest thing," said Jackson's mother, Latanisha. 

>> GoFundMe to bring Tony Jackson's body home

She hopes the public will step up to help. The family has set up a GoFundMe page to help cover the expenses. They hope to raise $10,000 to pay for transportation and funeral arrangements. 

In the meantime, the family is remembering a man who they believe risked his life to help a complete stranger. 

“He had a big heart. He would do anything for anybody,” Latanisha told Seiden. 

>> Read more trending news 

“He was a hard worker and he would do anything," Qasim said. "He would literally give the shirt off his back for anybody.”

Qasim says there was no warning posted about dangerous conditions in the water. A spokesman for the Panama City Beach Police said red flags were flying before the drowning, warning swimmers not to get in. 

Qasim says that isn't true. 

Click here to help the family.

Water Safety Tip

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17-year-old shot, killed by police in Pennsylvania

Published: Wednesday, June 20, 2018 @ 2:31 AM

A 17-year-old was shot and killed by police in East Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on Tuesday night after he allegedly ran away from a traffic stop on foot.
WPXI.com
A 17-year-old was shot and killed by police in East Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on Tuesday night after he allegedly ran away from a traffic stop on foot.(WPXI.com)

A 17-year-old was shot and killed by police in East Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on Tuesday night after he allegedly ran away from a traffic stop on foot.

>> Watch the news report here

>> Visit WPXI.com for the latest on this developing story

According to the Allegheny County Police Department, the vehicle the teen got out of matched the description of a vehicle seen near a shooting that occurred in North Braddock around 8:20 p.m.

An officer from the East Pittsburgh Police Department was handcuffing the driver when two males ran from the car, authorities said.

One of those males was the 17-year-old who was shot and killed by police, authorities said.

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The Allegheny County Police Department is asking the other person who ran away from the vehicle to turn himself in "so that he can give a comprehensive description of what occurred."

The victim in the North Braddock shooting, a 22-year-old man, was treated for his injuries and released from an area trauma center.

The Allegheny County Police Homicide Unit is investigating both incidents. 

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2 Georgia men drown over Father’s Day weekend in separate incidents in Gulf of Mexico

Published: Monday, June 18, 2018 @ 9:09 PM


Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
(Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Two men from North Georgia drowned in separate weekend incidents off Panama City Beach, police said.

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Eugene Spann, 67, of Atlanta, was declared dead after being pulled from the Gulf of Mexico on Saturday morning, authorities said.

The body of Tony Orlando Jackson, 21, of Cartersville, was found Sunday afternoon about two hours after he was caught by a large wave, according to police.

Police and emergency workers took over life support efforts from bystanders when they found Spann unresponsive on the beach behind a motel short after 11 a.m. He was taken to an emergency room on the beach, where he was pronounced dead.

A search effort involving several agencies eventually found Jackson’s body. Police originally responded to a call about a swimmer in distress about 2:30 p.m.

>> Related: Florida man chugs beer during DUI stop, deputies say

Police said surf flags were at the red “high hazard” level when Jackson drowned. That was up from the yellow “medium hazard” designation at the time of Spann’s death.

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