The Day of the Dead (Spanish: DIA DE LOS MUERTOS) is an ancient traditional holiday celebrated mainly in MEXICO. During this holiday, people take time to remember and celebrate family and friends who have died. Although it is called the “day” of the dead, celebrations last several days. The focus of observance is on the 1st and 2nd of November. It is believed that the spirits of those who have died can return to earth and visit their living family and friends during this time. Although often associated with the CATHOLIC celebrations of ALL SAINTS’ DAY, it is much less SOLEMN (serious, somber) and is a day of joyful celebration rather than mourning. Celebrations can take a HUMOROUS (funny, comical) tone, as celebrants remember funny events and ANECDOTES (stories) about the departed.
SPELL: DAY FAMILY SPIRITS CELEBRATION
What is the topic of this lesson? DAY OF THE DEAD
During what month is the Day of the Dead celebrated? NOVEMBER
In which country did this holiday originate? MEXICO
What is the Spanish name for the Day of the Dead? DIA DE LOS MUERTOS
What Catholic celebration is closely associated with the Day of the Dead? ALL SAINTS’ DAY
What word was used that means “funny or comical”? HUMOROUS
What is a synonym for SOLEMN? SERIOUS, SOMBER
If a family celebrates from midnight on Nov. 1 (which is the end of the day of Oct. 31) to 6 a.m. on Nov 3, how many hours would that be? 54
What is an anecdote people might tell about you?
Even though the living cannot see the spirits of their loved ones, families do everything they can to welcome and guide them home. One tradition is to build private ALTARS covered with “OFRENDAS” (offerings), which hold the favorite foods and BEVERAGES as well as photos and MEMORABILIA (objects associated with memorable people or events) of the departed. Families may make displays of happy skeletons doing things their loved ones used to enjoy, such as playing games, working, or playing musical instruments. These altars are often placed at home or in public spaces such as schools and libraries, but it is also common for them to be placed in cemeteries next to the TOMBS of the departed.
SPELL: WELCOME. OFFERING. SKELETON. TOMBS
Where are food and beverages often placed? ALTARS
What is the Spanish word for “offerings”? OFRENDAS
What items might be placed on altars? FOOD, BEVERAGES, PHOTOS, MEMORABILIA, SKELETONS
What is the purpose of placing memorabilia on the altars? WELCOMING OR GUIDING SPIRITS HOME
What memorabilia might represent one of your loved ones?
A common holiday symbol is the SKULL (in Spanish, CALAVERA), which celebrants represent in masks and foods such as CHOCOLATE or sugar skulls. Sugar skulls can be given as gifts to both the living and the dead. Other holiday foods include PAN DE MUERTO (“Bread of the dead”), a sweet egg bread made in various shapes, from plain rounds to skulls, often decorated with white frosting to look like twisted bones.
SPELL: CALAVERA. CHOCOLATE. PAN DE MUERTO
What common symbol of the holiday was mentioned here? SKULL
What is pan de muerto? SWEET EGG BREAD
Candy skulls can be made of what? CHOCOLATE or SUGAR
What American holiday often features skulls or skeletons? HALLOWEEN
What part of the body is the skull? THE HEAD
The traditional flower used in decoration is the MARIGOLD. These flowers are thought to attract the dead to the offerings and even to their family homes. They symbolize the beauty and FRAGILITY (vulnerability) of life. Along with marigolds and SKELETONS, communities are decorated with beautiful cut-paper designs called PAPEL PICADO (“perforated paper”). These are made by cutting elaborate designs into sheets of tissue paper and can be hung on altars or throughout the streets during the holiday.
SPELL: FLOWER. FRAGILITY. SKELETONS
What is the traditional flower of Dia de Los Muertos? MARIGOLD
What type of paper is used for papel picado? TISSUE PAPER
Where might papel picado be hung? ALTAR or IN THE STREET
What designs might you see in papel picado during the Day of the Dead celebration?
Besides flowers, what other items could you describe as “fragile”?
After a few days of FESTIVITIES (celebrations, parties) many people visit the cemetery for the last of the celebrations. Families clean GRAVESITES, play music, light candles, and tell stories. Pillows and blankets may be left out so the deceased can rest after their long journey. In some parts of Mexico, people spend all night at the graves of their relatives. They may have picnics at the gravesite as well.
SPELL: FESTIVITY, GRAVESITES, PICNIC
After a few days of festivities, we said many people visit the what? CEMETERY
What is a synonym for “festivity”? PARTY, CELEBRATION
What is left out so the spirits can rest after their journey? PILLOWS, BLANKETS
What four activities are listed that families may participate in while in the cemetery? CLEAN GRAVESITES, PLAY MUSIC, LIGHT CANDLES, TELL STORIES
How does your culture honor the dead?
What about other cultures you have learned about?
Does it seem strange to you to celebrate the dead? Why or why not?
Always a good visual activity: ask your speller to “put their eyes on” an object in a photo (or map, or sidebar, or graph) and then touch the item. In a photograph related to this lesson, for example, say, “Eyes on the skull. Touch the skull.”
Make sugar cookies and decorate them with “Frosting bones” or skulls.
Cut tissue paper (or any paper!) to make your own papel
Make your own altar to honor your loved ones who have passed on. Watch the beautiful movie Coco!