Have you heard of El Día de los Muertos, or “The Day of the Dead?”  It is one of the many cultural experiences I enjoy sharing with my students in the Spanish classroom.  We enjoy watching movies about this holiday, coloring decorative skulls, making skeletal puppets or creating “papel picado,” a perforated decorative paper that is hung on a wall surrounding the “ofrenda.”

This colorful holiday, celebrated in many Hispanic countries on Nov. 1 and 2, has become most notably associated with Mexico.  El Día de los Muertos, which celebrates the lives of family members who have passed away, was born from a blending of rituals practiced by the Aztec and Maya civilizations of Mexico, and the holy traditions of the Catholic faith brought to the Americas by Spanish priests.  It was the custom of these cultures to honor their ancestors and to do so over a period of days throughout the year.  The religious Catholic days observed on Nov. 1 and 2 also coincided with great festivals that the natives celebrated at the end of the harvest.

El Día de los Muertos is a national holiday in Mexico that begins on the eve of Oct. 31 with the preparation of a special bread and sugary treats.  It is also the time when families create altars, or “ofrendas,” in memory of their love ones who have died.  The altars are colorful and hold many of the family members’ favorite trinkets and foods.  In some communities, families travel to the cemeteries to lay marigold flower pedals and put up crosses and photos of their loved ones on the gravesites.

In the large cities in Mexico, there are large parades where many of the men dress in fancy skeletal costumes with top hats and the women wear elegant dresses with painted faces, colorful hats, and feathers.  Toys and sugar skulls are sold on the streets.

This is a festive holiday that teaches young Mexicans not to fear death and to honor the memories of their ancestors who, according to their belief, have passed on to a better life.

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