Dia de los Muertos is an important holiday in Mexican heritage, and although it’s called Day of the Dead, it is a celebration of life. It is said that from Oct 31st through November 2nd, the spirits of the dead visit their living family members. Therefore, celebration and prayer take place, and these souls are encouraged to come back for a visit. Celebrations can often take a humorous tone as funny stories and memories of the deceased are shared.
November 1st is reserved for remembering children who have died and November 2nd honors adults. Traditionally, private altars are built in their honor. The altars consist ofofrendas (offerings) including sugar skulls – these calaveras are a symbol of the holiday and you will see many costumed figures with skeletal faces, especially females, known asla calavera de la catrina. Orange marigolds – another symbol of the holiday, photos of the deceased, as well as their favorite foods and beverages are also left. Graves are visited and decorated with these gifts too.
Public schools build altars with ofrendas, but eliminate the religious aspect of the holiday. Government offices also observe the holiday with at least a small altar.
Other ways of celebrating include writing short poems mocking epitaphs of friends and describing interesting habits or funny anecdotes.
In more recent years children have been known to dress in costumes and knock on doors for calaverita – a small gift of candy or money; one of the biggest similarities to what we know as Halloween.
Any student can take part in these fun, educational activities surrounding Dia de los Muertos, but here are some suggestions we’ve collected to educate and celebrate the holiday with students in Spanish classrooms:
- Pair students up to research a famous Mexican – artist, writer, musician, or similar figure in Mexican history. Create an ofrenda in this person’s honor, using objects that are representative of the person. Students present their completed ofrenda to the class and describe the significance of each of the objects chosen.
- Ask students to write a poem in honor of someone in their life who has passed on, or someone whom they look up to – this could be in Spanish or English.
- Download this Dia de los Muertos Teacher Packet from azcentral.com that includes some excellent language and visual art activities such as:
- Spanish word search
- Spanish vocabulary and definition match up
- Templates for students to decorate their own calaveras