The Latino culture has shared many rich traditions. Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos), celebrated on November 1 and known as All Saints Day in the Catholic church honors deceased relatives. Here are activities and lessons to celebrate ‘Day of the Dead’. In Mexico and other countries that commemorate ‘Dia de los Muertos’ or Day of the Dead, families gather in cemeteries and picnic near the graves of loved ones. There are also ‘Dia de los Muertos’ parades. Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is similar to Memorial Day, except that there is less emphasis on nationalism, patriotism and military deaths and more focus on religious and ancestor remembrance. Dia de los Muertos decorations depict skulls and skeletons and may seem gruesome to those not familiar with Day of the Dead traditions. As an ESL teacher, we celebrated Day of the Dead in our classroom. Here are some activities we enjoyed.
Fiesta! Foods: Dia de los Muertos is a holy day; it’s a feast day (from the root word ‘fiesta’), not a fast day. So feast! Check out my blog Great Food 4U to find Latino and Mexican recipes. If your Day of the Dead celebration is for a classroom, church or parish celebration, invite (nay beg) that local hispanic and Latino will share some of their family recipes and ethnic dishes. Offer to provide a grocery stipend so that they don’t bear the financial cost. When people hear that Spanish fiesta foods will be served, watch out! You’ll be feeding an army.
Dia de los Muertos Votive candles: Lighting candles is a large part of Day of the Dead celebrations. Create your own Day of the Dead votive candles with this project. You will need one white taper, votive or pillar candle per guest ( or student). Assemble permanent markers or paint pens (to write on the candle) and plastic knives and spoons (for sculpting the candle). For decorations, set out dried or silk flowers, shells, pebbles, bits of old jewelry, marbles, ribbon and fabric scraps. Students may decorate the candles anyway they wish, but the traditional ‘dia de los muertos’ motif is a skull. Carve eye sockets, teeth and other structural features. It’s traditional to give the skeleton a jaunty look, with a kerchief, scarf, sombrero, tie or jewelry. Be sure to write the name of the deceased loved one (ones) on the candle, along with birthday and date of decease. You can also decorate votive candles in jars using permanent markers on the jar.
Free printable ‘Dia de los Muertos’ crafts, coloring, masks and activities. Click here to access and print Day of the Dead crafts.
Dia de los Muertos Procession – Parade: Catholic church used to have processions on many saints feast days and holy days. Host your own procession around the school, neighborhood or downtown. Get permission from city hall. Carry images of deceased loved ones, banners proclaiming the celebration and dress in costume. Traditionally candles are carried to light the images; local ordinances may or may not allow this. Who knows? It may become a local tradition?
Music: If you are fortunate enough to have a local Mariachi band, you’re all set. If not, invite guitar, accordion, saxophone and other musicians to share their music. Visit El Mariachi (click here) for ideas.
Decorations: use the free printable crafts and coloring, and bring in silk flowers (especially silk roses), plants, artificial trees and flowers. String colored Christmas lights and drape bead garlands.
Dia de los Muertos altars and shrines: Encourage each student to create a little memorial shrine for his loved ones, with photos, memorabilia, candles and decorations. Click here for instructions on making Dia de los Muertos altars and shrines.
Don’t let the emphasis on skulls and skeletons bother you. Dia de los Muertos is a reverent celebration that I have found very comforting.