By KHS teacher Maria Suomi
Have you ever heard of el dia de los muertos? The Day of the Dead, as it’s known in English, is celebrated November 1-2 in Mexico and by many Mexican Americans.
It is a time devoted to remembering deceased family members and celebrating their lives rather than mourning their passing. Many people believe that on these nights the spirits of the family members are free to return to visit their loved ones and families go to great lengths to prepare for the occasion.
One important tradition is that of visiting the family graves and decorating them generously with flowers, candles, and food. Families may remain in the candlelit cemeteries all night praying, singing, or visiting. At home, ofrendas are created. These are altars that are decorated to remember and celebrate the life of a deceased person.
Many people exchange beautiful skulls of sugar or chocolate (often with the person’s name on their forehead!) and silly skeleton toys are very common.
This year, Spanish II classes at Kingsley High School had the chance to decorate sugar skull-shaped cookies in the traditional manner with brightly colored icing and cheerful pieces of candy.
They also created beautiful multicolored cut paper banners known as papel picado that are hung overhead for most holidays and celebrations. These strings of colored paper show where a party is planned (or has been) and the creation of these intricate banners by hand requires great patience and a steady hand!
Some of the skulls and skeletons associated with el dia de los muertos resemble those of Halloween. Unlike Halloween, El dia de los muertos is a family and community celebration of the lives of those who have passed on, especially in the preceding year.
The holiday has roots in both the Aztec culture and that of colonial Spain. These days, the celebration has become so popular worldwide that well-known cemeteries such as the ones in Janitzio, Mexico, were expected to host over 300,000 visitors this year for the Day of the Dead.
In addition to the decorated skulls and banners, Spanish I classes enjoyed making traditional jumping skeleton toys based on two very famous skeleton drawings. The skeletons, known as Catrina and Zapatista, have an important place in Mexican history and can be seen all year ‘round decorating yards and balconies. They are brightly colored and often dressed in silly-looking attire to inspire laughter. Many of the students’ toys were wearing swimsuits and evening clothing, which is exactly what one might find in those towns in Mexico where the holiday is celebrated. Special meals, decorations, dances, sweets, and toys add warmth and humor to a family celebration.