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Día de los Muertos: Discovery, Inquiry, Reflection

Each year, Skutt Catholic Spanish teacher Rachel Twist and her students celebrate Día de los Muertos, with a three-day celebration. She shared all about this celebration and how her classes participate, learn and grow from the experience.

What is it?

Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a day in which we welcome home, honor, and pray for the people in our lives who have passed away. This holiday has deep roots in México, but is celebrated throughout the Spanish speaking world in Central and South America. There are many misconceptions and stereotypes about this holiday, so I strive to teach the Catholic identity of this three-day holiday that coincides with All Saint’s Day and All Souls Day.

Ofrenda or Altar

My favorite classroom tradition is creating an ofrenda, or altar, to display pictures of those in our lives who have passed away in a culturally appropriate and accurate way.Our classroom altar starts out quite simple, including only flores (flowers), velas (candles), a few twinkling luces (lights), and sugar skulls, or calaveras de azúcar.

Throughout the week, students and staff begin to bring in photos of their deceased loved ones to fill our classroom ofrenda. As pictures are added, my students also spend time creating calaveras, or skulls, that reflect their lives. Other students draw what their family altar might look like in their own homes for those who have passed away. We include a description of what our deceased loved ones liked, what they did, and our favorite memories of them. Still more students spend time creating paper versions of the cempasuchil, or marigold flowers, to help decorate and add to the ofrenda.

We learn about our Hispanic church heroes; those who have been martyrs for the church, those who spread the love of our Father, those who died as a champion of the Catholic faith. Through this discovery, we create mini ofrendas for these individuals so we can remember them in death after learning from their life. By the end of the week, the altar is a reflection of who we are, who we love, and the legacies we hope to leave when we pass into eternal life.

Discovery, Inquiry, Reflection

Our Día de Los Muertos celebration is filled with discovery, inquiry, and reflection. We spend time on social media looking at photos and videos of what cemeteries look like right now in México and Guatemala. We listen to the stories of those families who celebrate the holiday and what means the most to them during the three-day celebration. We look into the Aztec and Catholic roots of this holiday and how they’ve blended together to create this beautiful celebration of life. We reflect on how different death is seen and interpreted between our American culture and the Spanish speaking culture we’ve learned so much about while also considering how it changes our views and our personal faith to see death celebrated in such a beautiful way.

Tying It All Together

We spend the last day in celebration. We pray, sing, laugh, eat, and smile on a day where we remember Jesus and His victory over death. Without the victory on the cross, this holiday would not have come to be. How could we find the joy of eternal life without Jesus first earning it for us? Viva Cristo Rey! Viva La Vida Eterna!

However much joy this holiday brings, it is equally sad because it reminds us of the sadness that death brings when our loved ones leave this earthly life. As much hope as Jesus provided in His victory over death, there is also despair in the vacancies left by the departure of our beloved.

Our celebration of Día de Los Muertos serves as a reminder that we need to pray for the deceased, for the peace of their loved ones, and for the eternal life that awaits us all. Through all of this, we are aware of our pasts, presents, and futures. We are hopeful to be remembered as we remember and we are grateful for the promise of eternal life. Día de Los Muertos is a beautiful celebration of life, death, and the Catholic faith that binds these two worlds together.