Day of the Dead Introduces Students to Latin American Culture

by Emily Edman

El Día de los Muertos: Day of the Dead; a holiday celebrated in Mexico and other Latin American countries on November 1st and 2nd.  It is not celebrated in every Latin American country but those who do, celebrate at large.  The holiday is celebrated to remember and honor deceased loved ones.  In cemeteries all across Mexico, families gather at the gravesite to decorate the graves and to remember deceased friends, family members, and ancestors.

An ofrenda or offering is an altar set up to honor and remember an ancestor.  They often include photos, candles, flowers and objects which represent the person being honored.

In the 7th grade Introduction to Spanish class, students were able to learn about the symbolism of each altar element and their significance on the ofrenda.  The candle's light for example, is used to illuminate the soul of the deceased back to the altar or home.  The cempasúchitl flower or yellow marigold has been used since the time of the Aztecs to honor the dead, to decorate graves and altars. The scent and petals of this golden sweet smelling flower are used to lure the soul and to provide a path for the soul's return on the Day of the Dead.  Students made paper tissue cempasuchitl flowers as well as papel picado/perforated paper. Papel picado is used to decorate during the Day of the Dead celebration. Students used their flowers and papel picado to decorate an altar that was made within the classroom. 

Most importantly, students learned to compare Day of the Dead and Halloween.  Day of the Dead, although it follows Halloween so closely, is more like Memorial Day. Families in both the U.S. and Mexico hold a special day for remembering and honoring those no longer with us.