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Day of the Dead/Día de los Muertos

One of my favorite traditions we have at Metz Elementary is celebrating Day of the Dead or Día de los Muertos. For the Metz community, Day of the Dead is a very important holiday and we celebrate with school-wide participation. The holiday occurs on the 1st and 2nd of November, in connection with the Catholic holy days of All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day. The holiday focuses on gatherings of family and friends to pray for and remember friends and relatives who have died. When I moved to Austin from the very Catholic city of New Orleans, Día de los Muertos helped me to feel right at home. I apologize for posting a couple of days later then usual, but I wanted to be able to get some of the fabulous pictures I have to share with you ready for uploading. Hope you enjoy them and I hope you find some ideas to share with your students about this heartfelt celebration of loved ones lost.

Some of the background information I am sharing with you for this blog is from Wikipedia which also has some lovely photographs that you could share with your students.

Many people believe that during the Day of the Dead, it is easier for the souls of the departed to visit the living. Ofrendas or altars are placed outside of many classrooms, usually with favorite foods, beverages, pan de muerto ("bread of the dead"), sugar skulls as well as photos and memorabilia, of the departed,. The ofrendas are left out as a welcoming gesture for the deceased. The intent is to encourage visits by deceased loved ones. These photos are from some of the altars created by Metz teachers and their students. Students are asked to bring photos of loves ones, flowers, candles, food, special items to display on the ofrends. The results are always unique and beautiful! Here is the altar Mrs. Nusinow displays by the front doors, my own classroom ofrenda from last year (orange background), the 3rd Grade classes tribute to fallen Texas soldiers and the orenda display outside of the music room.

A different take on the ofrenda are these gorgeous shadow boxes Mrs. Sweet’s 4th grade class created. The students used mages inside the box to represent the deceased and wrote tributes on the back.

One of the first activities I engage my students in to prepare for Day of the Dead, is talking about loved ones that they have lost, friends, family members or pets. I want students to understand that life does have to end for al of us one day, but that doesn’t mean that our loved ones have to be forgotten. Some of the stories that students have shared with me over the years have been heartbreakingly beautiful. We all take time to open our hearts and listen to each other and pay tribute to those that we miss. I always share the story of my own grandfather, Louis G. Kahl, and the things about him that were special to me that I remember; his strong, large hands, his clean smell, his beautiful way of whistling, that my own son also does without even knowing the connection, and the way he treated animals with such kindness. The students welcome this opportunity to share their feelings and empathize with each other amazingly well.

Years ago, I created writing activity sheet titled “Honoring Our Loved Ones” and I have a couple examples and a blank pdf to share with you.

Download day_dead_writing.PDF

A common symbol for Day of the Dead is the skull, which many students wear as masks for our annual Day of the Dead parade. Here are two examples of student colored masks completed on a reproducible from the Mexic-Arte Museum. I often talk to the students about choosing colors that they believe go well together and how patterns can be used effectively. We always add glitter for a final touch!

Download day_dead_mask.PDF

I also use photo copied skull cut-outs in a lesson to discuss with students different activities our loved ones might like to participate in if they were able to come back and spend a day with us. Students illustrate a photo and write a story to go with it. The following photos show everything from flying in a hot air balloon to walking with a friend in the rain.

During the parade around our school, students and teachers make noise to “wake the dead” and let them know we are thinking about them. Mrs. Nusinow, our incredibly talented art teacher, always has new and interesting artistic creations for our students to make for this celebration, and this year many of the students made noisemakers just for the parade. They are paper towels tubes, covered with drawn on paper and are filed with rice for making lots of noise.

You can’t imagine the cacophony of noise when almost 600 people march through the hallways and around the playground shaking shakers and banging drums! It really is one of my favorite moments in the whole year!

“Our death is not an end if we can live on in our children and the younger generation. For they are us, our bodies are only wilted leaves on the tree of life.”Albert Einstein


Tony Senecal

Jennifer! the "Honoring Our Loved Ones" are priceless! Thanks for sharing the pdf. What a great way to help family (incl pets) we've lost in our memories...especially recollected thru the eyes of a child.


Thanks sooooo much Tony! I love them, too. One of the hundreds of things that keep me coming back to the classroom year after year!

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