"The Day of the Dead"
Our Junior High students have been learning about Dia de los Muertos ("Day of the Dead") in preparation for a classroom party centered around the Mexican celebration honoring the deceased, which traditionally takes place from October 31st - November 2nd. The celebration features traditions that include building private altars honoring the dead using sugar skulls, marigolds, and the favorite foods and beverages of the departed.
Seventh graders Miranda L. and Olivia E. have been planning the celebration as part of their research project about the Day of the Dead. “We started by decorating the classroom with papel picado (colorful paper flags), setting up the altar and putting up skeletons around class,” says Miranda. “Then we asked everyone to bring in photos of people they love who have died to add to our altar.”
In addition to honoring their loved ones, the students have also placed a photo of Maria Montessori on their altar, along with Montessori materials to commemorate her life and work.
Each student in the class also decorated their own sugar skull to celebrate Dia de los Muertos. “I loved making the sugar skulls,” says Olivia. “It is tradition in Mexico to lay the sugar skulls next to a loved one’s grave with that person’s favorite food, as an offering to them. We made them from sugar, meringue powder and water; they are supposed to last six to eight years.”
While Dia de los Muertos may fall at the same time as Halloween, the two are not related. “It’s not like Halloween at all,” says Olivia. “It’s a happy celebration, not scary or dark.” Adds Miranda, “Everything is so colorful and bright. There may be skulls everywhere, but it’s not supposed to be scary like Halloween.”
The students are tying their celebration into their Spanish lessons; they will be watching a documentary about Dia de los Muertos in Spanish class, and will incorporate what they’ve learned into their party on Friday. Learning about the traditions of other cultures teaches children global and cultural awareness, and gives them the exposure to honored traditions and celebrations from around the world.