celebrate day of the dead

image via http://www.srcalavera.com

What is Day of the Dead?

by Christine Martin

Skulls. Skeletons. Sweets. It is no wonder that Day of the Dead or “El Dia de los Muertos” can be confused with Halloween. Celebrated afterward, November 1st & 2nd, this Mexican/Mexican-American festivity is inspired by from ancient Aztec rituals. It unites families to pay homage to loved ones who have passed away. Often people congregate in cemeteries, sharing stories and meals. At home, altars are made for the spirits of deceased family members. It is believed that during this time, spirits return, visiting their most beloved places. 

Visually, the Day of the Dead is full of light, color, and playfulness. In Mexican culture, death is viewed as a part of the life cycle; not seen as fearful or gruesome. This is why many images associated with this holiday are bright and cheerful.

The beauty of El Dia de los Muertos lies in all of the symbolism behind it. Here are some examples of typical items seen during this time. 

  • Candles: candles are places on the altars and grave sites to guide the spirits back 
  • Zempasuchil or marigolds: in Aztec custom, these bright flowers symbolize death
  • Calaveras or skulls: it is customary for families to make sugar skulls; these represent both life and death, made of sugar to dispel the bitterness of death
  • Calacas or skeletons: these joyful figurines are created engaged in life activities like playing music or dancing, adding a lightness to their symbolism 
  • Pan de muertos or bread of the dead: this special recipe is made with the returning spirits in mind who after their journey seek food and water
  • Monarch butterflies: autumn is when monarch butterflies migrate to Mexico for the winter; it is believed that these are actually spirits returning to their homes
  • Papel picado or perforated paper : intricate designs are cut into colorful tissue paper to decorate homes and businesses during this time of year

Would you like to make your own sugar skull or create a space for your own altar? Sharing in these activities is a wonderful way to expose children to this unique celebration and give them an opportunity to discuss how other cultures view death. 

For more information, National Geographic Kids has some gorgeous photos and Global Wonders shares a simple explanation of Day of the Dead for young children. 

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