Activity

El Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) Community Altar

 

What You Need: (Note: for some components of the art activities, you may need other materials.) 

  • A small table or shelf

  • Empty boxes of varying sizes 

  • Tissue paper in a variety of colors 

  • Paper skulls or skeletons 

  • Real or paper marigold flowers 

  • Pictures of loved ones who have passed away

  • Favorite foods of deceased loved ones 

  • Candles 

  • A book on the Day of the Dead (see suggested list below) 

  • A computer or tablet to show a video 

 

What You Do: 

  1. Ask questions. Ask your child if they know anyone who has passed away. Ask them to think of how they honored or celebrated the life of the person who died. Explain to your child that in every society, people have different ways of remembering and honoring loved ones who have passed. Tell them that they will learn about a tradition from Mexico for honoring the dead, called El Día de los Muertos, and then they will build an altar as is done in Mexico to remember our loved ones who have died. 

  2. Give some background information. Explain that El Día de los Muertos is celebrated on the 1st and 2nd of November every year in Mexico, and some other parts of Latin America. Show your child a map of Mexico to give them a point of reference. Explain that El Día de los Muertos is a joyous event in which families and friends get together to create an altar decorated with pictures of their loved ones, candles, flowers, their favorite foods, skulls and skeletons. These altars are typically very colorful. On November 1st and 2nd, some people go to the gravestone or tombstone of their dead loved ones and decorate it with the classic “flor de muerto” or flower of the dead, also known as cempasuchil or marigold. They place their favorite food, beverage and other symbolic items on the grave site. People play music, sing, and dance. There is a certain level of positive celebratory energy during El Día de los Muertos. 

  3. Make meaning. Read a book or show a video to give your child more insight about El Día de los Muertos. Here are few excellent resources to expose your child to this tradition:  

BOOKS:

VIDEOS:

  1. Build the altar. Place the table against a wall and cover it with a tablecloth or papel picado (colorful tissue paper cut into various shapes and designs). Put some boxes to create different levels on the altar. Ask your child for input on the design and placement of items on the altar. Gather pictures of loved ones, candles, flowers, and food, and place them on the altar. These items are called ofrendas, or offerings, to the dead. The idea is that on November 1st and 2nd, loved ones who have passed will return and those still living have a chance to celebrate the lives of their deceased loved ones. 

  2. Make art. An excellent way to learn about the Day of the Dead tradition is to make some art to place on your altar. Here are a few options: 

  • Pinch pots - get some quick dry clay and form a small bowl or pinch pot. Paint it with acrylic paint and then add it to your alter. Place dried food, such as rice or beans, in the pot as an ofrenda to the deceased.

  • Sugar skulls - a classic addition to a Día de los Muertos altar are these quintessentially Mexican sugar skulls. Enjoy decorating them with frosting!

  • Papel picado - your child is sure to get their creative juices flowing by making these colorful tissue paper flags or “perforated paper.”

  • Tissue paper flowers - if you can’t get marigold flowers in your area, make these paper ones and place them in vases on your altar. 

  • Paper skull - color this intricate skull image and add it to your altar.

  1. Create a dedication. Invite your child and other members of your family or community to place their own dedications or offerings on the altar. Your child could write their dedication on a butterfly cutout template. Have them think of a deceased loved one and write a fond memory or message to them (younger children could draw a picture or say a dedication orally). Alternatively, a dedication could take the form of a letter or art piece as well. 

This activity can be a helpful way to help process the death of a loved one by focusing on the joy they brought when they lived. El Día de los Muertos is a tradition that reminds us that death is inevitable and that we can honor the dead and celebrate them with this unique custom. 

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