While the Church is celebrating All Saints’ and All Souls’ Days, there is a Mexican cultural celebration that is wonderfully interwoven with all of this. Los Dias De Los Muertos, or the Days of the Dead, is a time for remembering, playing and family closeness.
Many families set up home altars with photos of their loved ones who have died. Flowers, festive foods and candies decorate these altars. It is in recognition of life’s cycle of birth to death, held at the time of year when the harvest is in, and the days are waning—the death of the year.
There is also an element of great silliness, with children receiving chocolate skulls, and parades where participants dress as ghouls and skeletons. They carry an open coffin, in which a smiling ‘corpse’ happily catches the candies and flowers thrown to him. It is a time to laugh at death.
Like All Saints’ and All Souls’ Days, it is a fond remembrance of those who have passed on. Family members gather to feast, lighting candles on the altars, which burn all night to welcome back the souls of any departed loved ones. The next day, families go to the cemetery, with rakes, rags, flowers, blankets, picnic baskets, and a guitar or two. They weed around graves, scrub tombstones, and decorate them with flowers. Then they picnic, play games and sing. As darkness comes on, they light candles, and stay the night, with their memories of the ones who precede them.
As Catholics of Mexican heritage grace many parishes in the United States, combine the similarities of the official holy days and the Mexican tradition to celebrate with preschoolers. If possible, ask someone with experience of Los Dias De Los Muertos to advise you or to lead the class.
You will need:
- Photos of children’s relatives who have died (Ask parents to bring these in and promise you will give them back after class.)
- A loaf of bread, preferably uncut, so you can tear off pieces
- An autumnal colored tablecloth
- Statues or holy cards of saints
- Fall foods (pumpkins, apples, corn, etc.)
- Flowers (mums, marigolds)
- If possible, candy skulls and other decorations of Los Dias De Los Muertos
- Other simple finger foods that are festive and appropriate
With the children, create the altar. Take time and enjoy the process. Talk about the saints as children place the statues or cards on the table. Let each child place the photos brought from home. Then gather around the altar, light the candles, and pray together for all the good people that have gone to God before you. Share bread and other food. Tell a story of someone who has died, but that you still feel close to, and encourage children to do the same.
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