Sra. Ronetta S. Bough
High School Spanish Teacher, Indiana
The Day of the Dead is one of the most fascinating holidays in Hispanic culture. Los Días de los muertos, the Days of the Dead, are celebrated on November 1st and 2nd. The pre-Hispanic holiday coincides with the religious holidays All Saints Day and All Souls Day. November 1st is the time to remember children, or los angelitos, the little angels who have passed away. November 2nd is the day to honor the adults who have gone on before.
Fortunately, I had the privilege to see firsthand how the holiday is celebrated when I traveled with colleagues to Mexico in 2006 and later with students in 2008. We were able to visit cemeteries and witness how the community came together and beautified not only the headstones, but also the surrounding grounds. It was so special to see the love and attention given to each grave while a mariachi band played requested songs for the families. Coffee cans filled with water served as vases for exquisite arrangements of roses, lilies, and cempasúchil, a tall marigold-like flower also known as the Flower of the Dead. Families were very gracious to allow our groups to witness the time of celebration.
Many families create simple as well as elaborate altars in their homes to remember their loved ones. They often include a photo of the deceased, pan de muertos (bread of the dead), favorite foods, water, flowers, candles, calaveras (sugar skulls), calacas, (skeleton figurines), and papel picado (tissue paper with cut-out designs). We were able to buy many of the items to create altars in our school.
Over the years, my students and I have made several projects to honor loved ones. Hanging colored butterflies with the name of the deceased loved one is an easy way to get the entire school involved for the memorial days. Butterflies symbolize the cycle of life just as the monarch butterflies return to Mexico and the south. We have also posted these named butterflies on a large, wooden tree that we named the “Tree of Life.” Download the template here to use in your class.
Other favorite student projects include making and decorating their own sugar skulls, making flowers, and tissue paper with cut-out designs. Students never forget the shoebox altar projects. They have paid tribute to a loved one, a pet, or even famous individuals by making a 3-tiered altar inside the shoebox and by including a picture of the deceased, five objects representing his or her life, and miniature versions of the typical items found on an altar.
El Día de los Muertos: Day of the Dead Moo DVD and The Days of the Dead Food for the Ancestors DVD are wonderful educational videos about the holiday. These videos, along with additional resources, can be found at TeachersDiscovery.com.
Every year, I look forward to sharing this special holiday with my students. This season of the year certainly lends itself to link Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15 – October 15) and the Day of the Dead together. Making cultural comparisons within our community and the world can be very fascinating as well as fun. Take the time to remember loved ones and have a Happy Día de Muertos!