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In honor of those who lived their lives

Beata Herman gently placed a black-and-white photograph of her aunt on a table.

The photo joined a half-dozen others. They surrounded a small altar of skulls, candles, cilantro and vegetables.

"It's an old Catholic tradition," said Herman, who is originally from Poland. "Day of the Departed."

Herman's aunt had died years ago in childbirth. But every Nov. 2, Herman pays homage to her.

Although Herman first celebrated the day in a cemetery, surrounded by snow in her home country, on Sunday she marked the day in Tampa.

Viva la Frida, a restaurant and art gallery on Florida Avenue, held its second Dia de los Muertos event. Similar observances were held in Dunedin.

Dia de los Muertos is typically thought of as a Mexican holiday, although Catholics in a variety of countries mark the day.

Angelica Diaz, owner of Viva la Frida, says she grew up on the Arizona-Mexico border. Dia de los Muertos was celebrated every year, she said.

Like Herman, Diaz remembers visiting the graves of family members and celebrating with food and drink.

"The living invite the dead inside," she said. "It is the only time the dead are allowed to come to earth."

Part of the day includes creating an altar to the loved ones.

At the Tampa restaurant, people were encouraged to bring mementos of their loved ones for a communal altar. Diaz also asked local artists to create altars, which were scattered around the restaurant and covered with beads, sculpture and paintings.

In commemorating the holiday, Diaz hoped that people would learn about the tradition.

It is not a day of sadness, she said.

"It's to remember and enjoy and to think about our departed friends and relatives."

At Casa Tina Gourmet Mexican and Vegetarian Cuisine restaurant in Dunedin, owners Javier and Tina Avila built an altar and offered guests a free history lesson surrounding the tradition.

In their fourth year of celebrating the Day of the Dead at Casa Tina, Tina Avila said many of her patrons, who packed the restaurant most of the evening, were interested about the holiday.

"It was a wonderful day," she said. "There were a lot of people here looking to learn the ways of another culture."

_ Times staff writer Aaron Sharockman contributed to this report.