Creative Child

4 Ways to Celebrate Day of the Dead with Your Kids

by Erin J. Bernard on Oct 9th, 2014

The Day of the Dead is famous for its rich iconography  – skeletons dancing about in traditional Mexican costume, multi-hued flower bouquets and edible sugar skulls. But beneath all the colorful kitsch, this holiday also offers some fantastic ways to celebrate family – both living and deceased.

History

Day of the Dead (“Día de los Muertos” in Spanish) is often associated with modern Mexican tradition, but Mesoamericans were celebrating the close connection between the living and the dead for thousands of years. Over time, Catholic iconography worked its way into the ancient traditions and the celebration was moved to Nov 2 to correspond with All Souls’ Days. The holiday remains popular throughout Central America today, but it’s also gaining traction north of the border.

Ways to Celebrate

Get in on the fun by participating in a few traditional Day of the Dead activities with your kids:

1. Decorate family graves.

Set aside time this Halloween weekend to decorate the graves of deceased family members. Some Mexican families spend the entire holiday at the family burial plot, but these visits are hardly grim affairs. Family members clean and decorate graves, make flower-and-food offerings, picnic together, and tell fond stories.

If the weather doesn’t permit an outdoor tribute this year, try throwing an indoor picnic instead. Have children prep deceased relatives’ favorite dishes, share memories, then hang tissue-paper flowers throughout the house. (Yellow marigolds are a Day of the Dead favorite).

kids activities parenting cookies holiday day of the dead

2. Make an ofrenda.

Many families also set up a Day of the Dead altar (called an ofrenda in Spanish) right at home to provide visiting spirits with all the sustenance they’ll need for the journey back. Drape a table with colorful fabric, then invite children to decorate it with letters, photographs, flowers, toys and other remembrances. Ofrendas often also include objects representing each of the four elements: earth, air, wind and fire.

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kids activities parenting cookies holiday day of the dead

3. Dance!

The Day of the Dead is said to be a particularly auspicious time for seeking out assistance from the deceased, and music is considered a fantastic way to curry supernatural favor. So why not have a party? Mimic a tradition popular in the Mexican state of Michoacán and throw a “Dance of the Little Old Men.” Invite your children and their friends to dress up in baggy, grown-up garb, then play traditional Mexican tunes as they dance around and playact at being little old men and women.

4. Make (and eat) sugar skulls.

Those small, colorful, skull-shaped candies so popular with kids this time of year are surprisingly easy to make. Here’s a recipe:

You’ll need:

• 2 teaspoons of meringue powder

• 2 cups of granulated sugar

• 2 teaspoons of water

• A few plastic skull molds (available at most Hispanic grocery stores)

Method:

• Mix meringue powder and granulated sugar in a large bowl

• Add water and mix until dough has the consistency of wet sand

• Pack the dough firmly into the skull molds

• Set the molds down on a piece of cardboard and gently release the skulls

• Let the skulls dry overnight and then decorate with edible icing and candies

Related Article: The Benefits of Family Traditions

Sources:

The Smithsonian:

http://latino.si.edu/dayofthedead/

University of New Mexico:

http://www.unm.edu/~htafoya/dayofthedead.html

National Endowment for the Humanities:

http://edsitement.neh.gov/october-2010-history-and-origins-halloween-and-day-dead-celebrations

Erin J. Bernard is a freelance writer, editor, and photographer from Portland, Oregon. Before becoming a writer, Erin worked as a nanny and an ESL classroom teacher. She taught English at a Montessori school in Mexico and then ran an after-school language program in South Korea. Erin is the editor of the parenting guide, “Instructions Not Included: A Pediatrician’s Prescription for Raising the Best Kids on the Block,” written by Irwin H. Berkowitz, MD.

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