Honoring the Day of the Dead

“Una civilización que niega a la muerte, acaba por negar a la vida.”
(A civilization that denies death, ends up denying life.)

-Octavio Paz

Last week Lower School Spanish students celebrated el día de los muertos.  El día de los muertos combines the ancient Aztec custom of celebrating ancestors with All Soul’s Day, a holiday that Spanish invaders brought to Mexico starting in the early 1500s. Celebrated throughout Latin America but primarily in Mexico (and in the United States by Mexican-Americans), this holiday honors and remembers loved ones who have passed away. To commemorate this day, families build candlelit “ofrendas”, decorated altars, in their homes and at gravesites, so that the spirits can find their way back to their loved ones. The “ofrendas” are filled with the favorite food, drinks, and items that were important to their ancestors when they were alive (such as a favorite instrument, game etc.) They also include the four main elements of nature – earth, wind, water and fire.

Spanish teacher Amanda Wood shared, “Our goal is not only to teach the Spanish language, but also to create a climate that appreciates and values Hispanic culture and sees it’s relevance in our community and our world.”


Over the course of three weeks students in 4-5 worked in small groups to design and build a traditional altar.  Students made papel picado (paper cut-outs), crepe paper-cempasuchil (marigold)  flowers, arcos de flores (floral arches), and enjoyed homemade pan de muerto (Bread of the Dead). Students watched videos and viewed images of real life altars as they learned more about the holiday and its importance to Latin American culture.

2-3 students participated in the making of papel picado which was displayed in the art center entrance. Students contributed photos, memorabilia and artifacts from loved ones for the shared altar. K-1 students colored and cut out brightly decorated calaveras (skulls) that were hung around the 2-3 altar and engaged in age appropriate conversation about the celebration. Students, faculty and families visited the altar display and enjoyed hearing from 4-5 students about their group projects.  

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