While the sugar skull is one symbol of the Day of the Dead celebrations it is only one small component of the Mexican celebration called Dia de los Muertos.
Families make "ofrendas" in their homes which are alters with pictures of their departed loved ones, favorite foods and beverages, flowers and anything that is a remembrance of the loved one. The major portion of the celebration takes place at the cemetery where all the offerings are taken and placed at the grave-site along with huge piles of marigolds, the traditional flowers. Families gather, tell stories about their loved ones and share food. (See Day of the Dead Recipes)
The strongest traditional celebrations take place in the south of Mexico in Oaxaca where the Indian population is the greatest. There are still midnight treks to the graveyard and truckloads of marigolds line the cemeteries. The Day of the Dead celebrations are becoming popular in the U.S. as well particularly in California, Texas and the Southwest.