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Día de los Muertos, or Todos Santos is a holiday remembering those who have died, and is celebrated in Mexico, Guatemala, Bolivia, and other Latin American countries. Many families make an ofrenda (altar) in their homes on a table or shelves to pay tribute to their loved ones who have passed on. This is a collection of treasures, pictures, food, special items and candles to remind the families of their loved ones. The altars are lined with bright tissue paper, ornately cut into different scenes (papel picado). If the altar is for a child, the family might display their toys, and favorite foods, or a tiny cup of hot chocolate. One special flower that has been present at Day of the Dead celebrations since the Aztec time are marigolds (cempasúchil), whose smell is thought to awaken the spirits and guide them back home.
To prepare for Día de los Muertos, some families in Mexico also build altars in the cemeteries where their loved ones are buried. They clean the tombs, and bring in hundreds of flowers, candles, and the smells of moles, pan de muerto, atole, candy. The families might eat in the cemeteries with the spirits, play music, and leave extra food for the spirits to visit.
These pictures are from a friend’s house in Mexico City: notice the marigolds (cempasúchil), papel picado, dressed-up skeletons, and sugar skulls (calaveras).
Why is it important to learn about celebrations in other cultures?
Not only does this heighten cultural awareness, it helps children learn our similarities and differences, what other cultures value, and for some students it instills pride in their own heritage. Understanding the reasons behind cultural celebrations helps to promote cultural awareness and eliminates negative attitudes or prejudices.
Remember your loved ones, and take out pictures of them while you reminisce. If you’d like, set out an ofrenda of items and photos that remind you of them, their hobbies, their favorite food. Tell your favorite stories about them and enjoy some hot chocolate and pan de muerto. Finally, make some colorful skeletons to add cultural decorations to your celebration.
Take a moment to check out our Common Core aligned Day of the Dead Unit that can be found at the Kid World Citizen Teachers Pay Teachers Store! With a gorgeous minibook, festive decorations, and unique, themed activities, this unit has all the printables you need to introduce and celebrate Day of the Dead a classroom or home setting.
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