More and more Americans are now celebrating Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, a ritual the indigenous people of central and southern Mexico have been practicing in one form or another for at least 3,000 years. Here's a little history: the Aztecs used to keep skulls as trophies symbolizing death and rebirth, and during Día de los Muertos, the skulls were used to honor lost loved ones. Many Meso-American civilizations believed the dead came back to visit during the once month-long ritual. When the Spaniards colonized the New World they made the ritual more Catholic by moving the original celebration (approximately the entire month of August) to coincide with All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day (Nov. 1 and 2). This date is still used today in Mexico, Central America and many parts of the U.S. NBC News asked a few notable Latinos how they celebrate Day of the Dead: Sandra Cisneros, the author of books such as The House On Mango Street made an altar to her deceased mother, called “A Room of Her Own: Altar for My Mother” at The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, DC., as part of their American Stories exhibition. “This is the third time one of my altars is exhibited, but the first time in a non-Latino museum - so it requires a little more explanation,” said Cisneros. Although Mexican American, Cisneros did not grow up celebrating Day of the Dead. “I felt disenfranchised with this cultural legacy,” she explained. Then when her father died, she understood the meaning of an altar for the first time. "When you’re in mourning your heart is broken in two...if you’re taking Prozac, how are you going to process that grief if you’re numb?" said Cisneros. "For me, the process of creating an altar forced me to create. Creation always nourishes the spirit.” Describing the altar, the renowned author said half of it is her mother's bedroom and the other half her garden - the two places she loved most. “She’d watch her PBS shows and read her favorite books in her bed,” recalled Cisneros. “Instead of putting a table of food, I’m putting her pretty things on her bed. She’d like to find antiques, her clothes...things that belonged to her mother and grandmother. It is my way of honoring them and remembering them.” Creating altars, a common Dia de los Muertos tradition, is always a moving experience, Cisneros said. Author Sandra Cisneros' altar for her late mother, in honor of the antiques and clothes her mother enjoyed, is being displayed at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History. “Just like writing, I’m not the same person when I’m finished. Hay que llorar, (you have to cry) and then you need to create something. Whenever you create with all your love, it will always take you someplace bigger than yourself," said Cisneros. For celebrated Mexican chef, author and television host Margarita Carrillo Arronte, the best part of Dia de los Muertos is eating the chocolate, etole, mole, tamales, and always the traditional pan de muerto (bread of the dead). She loves pan de muerto so much she included her recipe in her recently published “Mexico: The Cookbook.” “The pan de muerto shape changes according to the region, but the dough is always the same,” said Carrillo Arronte. “It’s made with orange blossom water.” Carrillo Arronte explained that in some houses, if you see a hanging paper star, that means you can go in the house to see their altar and they will offer you some food, sort of like an open house. “It’s a very peaceful tradition because this is the night where your dead ones come back to be with you, and the family gets together,” said the popular chef. “Many people go to the graveyard and take the food and music the dead ones liked.” For her, the celebration involves two important traditions - food and family. Visual artist Carlos Nieto III is known for his beautiful Dia De Los Muertos paintings. Though his roots are Colombian, he was born and raised in Los Angeles and influenced by the surrounding Mexican and Central American cultures. The talented Angeleno is a layout artist on the TV series “The Simpsons,” but during his free time Nieto is writing his first Day of the Dead inspired graphic novel entitled "L.A. Calavera. " It's about a young latina girl turned vigilante after she witnesses the murder of her parents. Currently, Day of the Dead festivities are keeping Nieto very busy. “On November 1st, I am painting sugar skulls on people at the 2nd Annual Atwater Village Day of the Dead Festival, as well as two other Day of the Dead events,” he said. “Then Sunday. I'll be driving to San Diego to work on a live painting - the second in my newest series: ‘Sacred Amalgama’...The first one in the series is called "Ojalå." This series seeks to connect the Day of the Dead ritual to rituals from around the earth.” For Nieto, art is his way of connecting to a celebration that is becoming a larger part of the U.S. Latino experience.