Activity 4: Day of the Dead
- This colourful Mexican festival takes place over two days at the beginning of November to remember friends and family members who have died.
- It is a celebration of life and death - a joyful time where people remember those who have died and celebrate their memory.
- An altar (ofrenda) is set up in homes to welcome the spirits and is loaded with offerings such as water, food, family photographs and candles. There might also be special items such as a musical instrument, football shirt, book or jewellery to show what a person enjoyed when they were alive. A favourite meal might be ‘shared’ as you may have done when they were alive.
- Marigold flowers (“Flor de Muerto”) are used to decorate the ofrenda.
- Short, funny poems which poke fun at the living are often written.
- Decorated skulls (calavera) are symbols of the festival.
- Many people dress up as skeletons and decorate their faces.
- Coloured paper is used to decorate (papel picado) and symbolises the fragility of life.
Click the arrow to expand each one or click here to expand all of the answers below:
Why do Mexican people celebrate the Day of the Dead?
It is a religious festival to honour people who have died and to celebrate life as well as death. They remember family members and friends who have died.
What are typical symbols of the festival?
Decorated skulls (calaveras), marigold flowers (flor de muerto), offering or altar (ofrenda), punched paper decorations (papel picado).
Is thinking about people who have died a good thing?
It can be an opportunity to think about people who have died. Thinking about what that person enjoyed when they were alive, remembering happy times, having fun, joining with others who have also been bereaved, feeling happy to have known the person even if you are sad that they are no longer alive today. Sometimes people stop talking about someone who has died, this can be really difficult for their family and friends as they might like to have a chance to hear stories about when their person was alive, remembering time they spent together and thinking about what they miss about them.
Do you think that the Day of the Dead is a scary festival, or a happy one?
Mexican people think it is a celebration of life and death, it is colourful and there is dancing. Death is welcomed as a part of life which is why the skeletons are often smiling and happy. They say, “Our dead are not forgotten to us”. This is why they feel it is so important to celebrate and remember those who have died.
Reflection and Support
Explain to pupils that it might feel upsetting or worrying when they speak about people dying. Remind them of all the people who are available to help them, and who they can talk to if they feel upset or worried.
Think about what is special about themselves and celebrate the children they are, thinking about how much they have grown and learnt since they were babies. They could:
- Take photographs of each other, print and stick on a frame which they decorate.
- Give pupils a piece of paper with a ‘frame’ around to draw/paint a picture of themselves and decorate the frame.
- Write a short, silly poem about themselves.
For staff – plan something together as part of the debrief. This could be a walk and talk or tea and cake after school, or at lunchtime. Signpost to support and check in with each other.