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A young woman stands amid the swirling crowd during Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) festivities in downtown Santa Ana on Saturday. A popular festival known as Noche de Altares (Night of Altars), organized by El Culturo Central de Mexico and Calacas, draws thousands of participants each year.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

Dia de los Muertos celebrants gather around a face-painting booth on Fourth Street in downtown Santa Ana for the Noche de Altares (Night of Altars) street festival on Saturday. The Day of the Dead celebration has been a fixture of the Latino community of Santa Ana for the last 11 years.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

A would-be dead bandito haunts the streets of downtown Santa Ana for the Noche de Altares (Night of Altars) festival on Saturday.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

A couple flank a Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) altar honoring deceased friends and family members during Noche de Altares (Night of Altars) festivities in downtown Santa Ana on Saturday. Numerous participants dress up as corpses and erect altars in honor of people who have passed away or to call attention to a variety of social issues.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

A man dressed as a Mayan corpse participates in Noche de Altares (Night of Altars) festivities in downtown Santa Ana on Saturday.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

A woman posing as a dead bride stands beside a makeshift shrine during Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) festivities in downtown Santa Ana on Saturday. The Noche de Altares (Night of Altars) celebration draws participants from throughout Southern California and is a modern take on an ancient and indigenous Mexican tradition of honoring deceased friends and family members.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

A ghoulish couple stroll through downtown Santa Ana for the Noche de Altares (Night of Altars) street festival on Saturday. The Day of the Dead celebration has been a fixture of the Latino community of Orange County since 2002.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

Skulls, marigolds and ofrenda (private altars) are the hallmarks of annual Day of the Dead festivities in downtown Santa Ana. Members of Orange County's Latino community gather every year to observe the ancient traditions of All Saints Day and All Souls Day.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

A child appears to be dead tired as the Noche de Altares (Night of Altars) street festivities in Santa Ana wind down on Saturday.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

Altars honoring the dead include a host of items, including flowers, brightly painted ceramic skulls, cigarettes and a variety of distilled spirits and brewed beverages. The Noche de Altares (Night of Altars) street festival, held in downtown Santa Ana on Saturday, was started by a small group of artists 11 years years ago and coincides with the annual Mexican observance of the Day of the Dead.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

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Noche de Altares in Santa Ana

By Luis Sinco, Los Angeles Times

Tens of thousands of Southern Californians descended on downtown Santa Ana over the weekend for Noche de Altares (Night of Altars), a festive and colorful celebration mainly dedicated to people dead and gone. Held at Fourth and Birch Streets, the event features intricately constructed altars that line sidewalks and that memorialize friends and loved ones on Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). Amid the throngs were people dressed and made up as caricatures of corpses. The event is a modern-day incarnation of an ancient, indigenous Mexican tradition — and it observes inevitable finality through the vibrancy of the moment.

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