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Everybody Fiesta: A Unit on Hispanic Celebrations

 Dia de los Muertos

What is el Dia de los Muertos?

El Dia de los Muertos, or The Day of the Dead, is one of the many fascinating celebrations that occur in Mexico. This holiday reflects how Mexican culture accepts death as an essential part of the cycle of life. Death on El Dia de los Muertos is joyfully celebrated as families gather to honor and show respect for their loved ones who have passed away. This holiday originated from the union of indigenous beliefs of death and afterlife with the European rituals of All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day.

There is the belief that during El Dia de los Muertos, souls of the dead return to the earth for one day of the year. The souls of children are said to arrive on October 31 and leave November 1, or All Saints' Day. The souls of the adults arrive on November 1 and leave on November 2, All Souls' Day.

This celebration requires much preparation. Families construct ofrendas (alters) to honor their loved ones. These alters are decorated with candles, gifts, marigolds, banners, food, and drinks. Tombs and graves in the cemeteries are cleaned and painted. A special bread known as Pan de los Muertos (Bread of the Dead) is prepared along with candies in the shape of skulls. Skeleton figures clothed in modern and often comical attire are popular symbols of the holiday. El Dia de los Muertos is a colorful and joyful celebration that connects the past with the present. It reassures living Mexican people that when they too have passed away, they will be remembered and celebrated.

Objectives:

  • Students will describe ways in which people in the United States remember and honor the dead. 
  • After hearing the story Maria Molina and the Days of the Dead, students will identify the similarities and differences between El Dia de los Muertos , Memorial Day and Halloween by completing a chart in cooperative groups. 
  • Students will identify the important role food can play in social and religious events. 
  • Students will explain the specific role of Pan de los Muertos to the El Dia de los Muertos celebration. 
  • Students will demonstrate knowledge of fractions and measurement by following a recipe for Pan de los Muertos. 
  • Students will work cooperatively to prepare Pan de los Muertos and Mexican hot chocolate. 

 

Time Required:  

5 days

Vocabulary:  

Vocabulario for Dia de los Muertos

Materials:  

Procedures:  

  • Ask students how people in America remember their loved ones who have passed away. Encourage students to think of some characteristics of American customs associated with remembering the dead.(Example: Memorial Day) List student responses on the chalk board.
  • Explain to students that the ways in which people bury and remember their dead say much about the peoples’ beliefs, culture, and customs. Different societies deal with death in many different ways. Explain to the students that they are going to hear a story about a family from Mexico and a special way in which they remember their dead.
  • Ask students to point out Mexico on the world map.
  • Read the book Maria Molina and the Days of the Dead. Give students a brief introduction to the story before you read. Explain to the students what El Dia de los Muertos festival is. Write the name on the board for students to see.
  • As a motivation for the story, ask each student to be thinking of the questions: How do Maria’s experiences in Mexico with El Dia de los Muertos differ from her experiences with Halloween? How does the way Maria’s family honor their dead differ from the way the American culture honors their dead? Point out critical attributes of El Dia de los Muertos as you read. Show illustrations to students as you read. Clarify Spanish vocabulary used in the story.
  • When finished with story, hand out one chart worksheet to groups of four students. Allow the students ten minutes to work with their group to fill out their chart highlighting the similarities and differences between El Dia de los Muertos , Halloween, and Memorial Day. Encourage the students to be thinking of the meaning of each holiday as they fill out the chart.
  • Have students share their comparisons with the class. As students provide their comparisons, fill out a large class chart on the chalkboard. Discuss the students’ comparisons. Emphasize to the students that although Halloween and the El Dia de los Muertos festival occur at the same time of the year, they are actually very different holidays with very different purposes. They might be alike in terms of food and visual images, but not in meaning. Explain to students that although celebrated in many different ways, El Dia de los Muertos is most like our Memorial Day in meaning.

Evaluation:  

  • Were students able to describe ways in which people of the United States remember their dead?
  • After hearing the story Maria Molina and the Days of the Dead, were the students able to identify the similarities and differences between El Dia de los Muertos , Halloween, and Memorial Day by cooperatively filling out the chart provided in groups?

Extension Activities:  

  • Students can be given a vocabulary search using the Spanish words related to the El Dia de los Muertos festival. Students should be given opportunity to practice saying the words aloud.
  • Prepare Pan de los Muerto and Hot Chocolate.

Home Learning:

Students can be given a scavenger hunt search using the many websites available on El Dia de los Muertos. Five can be bookmarked for the students to use to find the answers to clues given on terms, concepts, or characteristics on the festival. Students can be encouraged to find one more website on their own.

Dia de los Muertos Concentration Game

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