Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, today celebrated Nov. 1 and 2, is a tradition of honoring ancestors, and more educators are seeking ways to teach about it.
Started by the Aztecs some 3,000 years ago, the ritual, which includes honoring deceased loved ones by erecting altars adorned with their pictures and favorite foods, colorful parades and skull face painting, has been spreading throughout the U.S. It’s featured in the movies, museums, schools and cultural centers. And, among the many resources offered to teachers, parents and other educators online, is the Smithsonian Latino Center with its free interactive experiences that I found most fun.
Among its offerings: an ebook, featuring a Day of the Dead transmedia curriculum; virtual and interactive altars; an animated short; a 3D dancing skeleton, featuring traditional dance and music; a lesson plan; videos; and the Latino Virtual Museum’s official Day of the Dead/Día de los Muertos Tumblr blog.
In this broadcast, author Sandra Cisneros talks about Day of the Dead:
“I think we’re living in a time of puro susto (great fear),” Cisneros says. “It’s important to tell our story. If we don’t tell our story, our history gets lost or told by someone who doesn’t love us.”
She calls the Day of the Dead ritual an “important ceremony” and a “very different way of looking at the spiritual world.”
“We have Halloween in the United States,” Cisneros says. “People are used to seeing the dead and death as something frightening, some inevitable end you don’t want to think about, whereas in the indigenous world, death coexists with you everyday. You don’t have this spooky feeling about your spirit allies. You have a different way of looking at the spiritual world. It’s something you connect with anytime, but especially on the days of the dead when you invite your departed to come in spirit form and have dinner with you. I think it’s a wonderful way to think about community because you have the spiritual community that seems to get forgotten…. In Mexico, there’s a communion with the departed. They are an integral part of your life. You can ask for advice from them. They come to visit you in dreams, and you have this wonderful party on the first and the second of November.”
It’s about a “spiritual maturation that we haven’t experienced in the United States,” she says. “It is the opposite of Halloween.”
More resources can be found at the website.
Banner image credit: Hagens_world
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