Last year I had a chance to celebrate The Day of the Dead (Dia De Los Muertos) with my sixth graders, and it was pretty enjoyable. The week before the traditional Mexican holiday I had my students use the Internet to research the customs, rituals, and foods of the holiday. They were very intrigued to learn that there are many people (millions in fact) that live in Mexico and South America that celebrate loved ones that have died, decorate elaborate altars, and eat sugar skulls instead of putting on scary costumes and going trick-or-treating. It was the perfect way to introduce elements of culture as our Social Studies curriculum for the year focused on ancient Middle Eastern and European cultures. We wrote about our loved ones that had passed away, made sugar skulls in Food Science class, and then made our own classroom altar of photographs and objects that reminded us of our loved ones.
So I thought I’d share a couple of the resources we used online, and one that I found recently, to help your students explore the 3-day holiday honoring the dead.
Dia De Los Muertos by Azcentral.com
This is the site my students used for their main resource. It’s a pretty complete compendium of the traditional foods, music, events as well as a brief history of the holiday. It also has some nice resources for teachers, including lesson ideas and crafts.
A larger part of the above mentioned site, the interactive altar lets the user click on various elements found on a typical Day of the Dead altar, including candles, incense, pictures, food, and objects that once belonged to the loved one. It also has a link to ideas about building your own altar.
The Dia De Los Muertos Blog
I’m actually pretty blown away by this resource. Ladislao Loera recalls her own experiences of the holiday from her youth, and does a fantastic job of detailing how Day of the Dead is NOT Halloween. She explains the purpose of altars during the holiday in simple terms, pointing out that any loved one that has passed away can be celebrated from relatives to friends, and even pets. The author periodically posts artwork related to the holiday and explores some of the religious nature of Dia De Los Muertos. An interesting read from a first hand account of someone celebrating the holiday as a part of their heritage.
I know 3 links may not be a whole lot to get excited about, but it’s a start, and you students would be more than happy to find more (mine found lots of tiny little sites filled with useful information). I was really impressed with the Day of the Dead blog. It epitomizes the idea of connecting with individuals, and sharing their thoughts. If I were to do a Day of the Dead unit again I’d definitely include this resource as being able to directly “tap in” to someone’s ongoing exploration of a subject is much more rewarding than reading a stale encyclopedia entry online.