Teaching about Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead

Teaching Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead

As parents are putting together costumes and children are picking out pumpkins in preparation for Halloween (and let’s be honest, teachers are stocking up on coffee), there is another holiday right around the corner – Dia de los Muertos.  Dia de los Muertos translates to “Day of the Dead”. It is a traditional Mexican celebration. Here are a few interesting facts that are important to know before teaching your students about Dia de los Muertos.

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Things to Keep in Mind When Teaching Dia de los Muertos

1. Day of the Dead is NOT Halloween

First and foremost, Dia de los Muertos is NOT Mexico’s Halloween. The celebration began in 1800 B.C. while Halloween’s origins are much later.

2. It is Not Universally Celebrated

Surprisingly, Day of the Dead is more commonly celebrated in southern Mexico than in the northern part of the country.

3. It is Not Scary or Sad

Dia de los Muertos is a celebration based on love, not death or fear. It is a day to honor loved ones who have passed away. The holiday is not sad or depressing and is really quite the opposite.

4. Ofrendas are Offerings

The altars, or ofrendas, are not a place of worship. “Ofrendas” translates to “offerings” which is what the altar, usually covered in a white tablecloth, is set up to hold. Food, water, and pictures of loved ones who have passed are placed on the ofrenda. (The food is never eaten as it is left for the souls coming to visit. Only the scent of it is enjoyed by the living.) All of this is done in a way similar to how people leave pictures, flowers or stuffed animals at a gravesite.

5. Dia de los Muertos is part of a Larger Celebration

While the name of the holiday is DAY of the Dead, it is actually celebrated over the course of two days. The first day is November 1, which is All Saints Day. This is the day used to honor all of the “little angels,” or children, who have passed away.  November 2, All Souls Day, is used to honor all adult loved ones who are deceased.

6. Traditional Food is Symbolic

Pan de muerto, bread of the dead, used as part of the celebration, is round for a reason: to denote the circle of life.

7. Marigolds Play an Important Role

You may frequently notice flowers that look like bright orange carnations at Day of the Dead celebrations. This flor de los muertos, or flower of the dead, is called a marigold. The flower is used as a way for the departed to find their way back home.

8. Calaveras

While it is always fun to get your face painted, there is importance to the sugar skull painting or calavera. It began as a way for the living to try and fight off death by looking as though they were already dead.

Here are some great children’s books on Day of the Dead:

Two books about Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead

The Dead Family Diaz is an adorable story about Angelito, who is not looking forward to the Day of the Dead because he is scared of the living. That is until he makes a new friend in The Land of the Living.

Child holding books about Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead with Mr. Bones

Clatter Bash! A Day of the Dead Celebration is a simple story with vibrant illustrations that depict the fun skeletons are having at their Day of the Dead celebration. This story is perfect for younger children, lower readers, and ESOL students.

inside book about Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead

Here are some of my favorite Day of the Dead teaching resources:

My Virtual Field Trip to Mexico City to celebrate the Day of the Dead is the perfect exercise to learn about the culture and traditions of this holiday. Students practice reading, writing, and other key skills.

My Escape the Land of the Dead Escape Rooms are a truly immersive experience. Students read passages and answer skill-based questions to find their ofrenda in the land of the living. This reading comprehension focused activity comes in printable, Google Slides, and my brand new Webscape™ format.

If you are looking for a reading activity, this Compare and Contrast Halloween and Day of the Dead Lapbook is a great option!

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