We’ve all seen the colorful calaveras (skulls) and calacas (skeletons) everywhere during this holiday, but what does this annual multiday celebration really represent? Día de los Muertos (DEE ah deh lohs MWEHR tohs), Spanish for Day of the Dead, is not Mexico’s equivalent of Halloween. Though related, the two events differ greatly in tone and unique traditions. Where Halloween often focuses upon the frightening aspects of death, Day of the Dead festivities unfold with vibrant colors and are very much a happy occasion. The intention is to demonstrate love and respect for family members who have passed away. In mostly Mexico and throughout Latin America, people of all ages spill into streets wearing funky makeup and costumes, singing, dancing, and making offerings to lost loved ones. It is an extremely social occasion!
Families gather in churches, at cemeteries, and in homes. As the centerpiece of the celebration, many prepare an elaborate altar, known as an ofrenda (offering). But these altars are not for worship; rather, they are created to welcome souls of departed family members and friends back to the realm of the living. As such, they’re loaded with such offerings as drinks to quench their thirst, fruits, popular foods, family photos, and marigold flowers. Served in the shape of skulls, skeletons, and other symbols of death, special candies and pan de muerto (bread of the dead), a sweet bread, are popular treats! Día de los muertos is usually celebrated on November 2. That day is the Roman Catholic feast of All Souls' Day. In some communities, the dead are remembered over several days, including November 1, All Saints' Day, and its eve, October 31. The celebration combines ancient native beliefs and Catholic traditions.
Día de los Muertos reinforces the ancient belief that death is a part of life. It is an extremely important tradition through which families pass on their oral histories. By recalling stories of past family members, it helps to keep these ancestors alive for future generations!
Let your students learn more about this holiday, the people who celebrate it, and everything that brings this day to life! Download our Día de los Muertos Crossword Puzzle and WebQuest activities below! Tag us in your celebrations using @worldbookinc for a chance to be featured on our social feeds.
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