Photographer Katie Dixon, Creative Commons

  • Grades 3-5
  • Visual Arts
  • English & Literature
  • History
  • Language Studies

Comparing Cultural Holidays
What comparisons can you draw from the artistic and cultural traditions of Halloween and the Day of the Dead?

In this 3-5 lesson, students will compare the holiday traditions of Halloween, celebrated in the United States, and El Día de los Muertos, celebrated in Mexico. Students will research and gather information about the traditions, music, and visual art. Each student then replicates a tradition associated with El Día de los Muertos by creating an altar in memory of an ancestor who has died.

Print Lesson

Lesson Content

Learning Objectives 

Students will: 

  • Compare how the holidays of Halloween (in the United States) and Día de los Muertos (in Mexico) are celebrated. 
  • Research the traditions, music, and history of Halloween and El Día de los Muertos. 
  • Create an altarpiece in honor of someone who has passed on. 


Standards Alignment

Recommended Materials

Coco’s - Un Poco Loco, Vocabulary, Organizer: Comparing Cultural Holidays, Google Map of Mexico, Halloween BrainPop, Halloween Britannica Kids, Day of the Dead Britannica Kids, Slide: El Día de los Muertos Altar


Teacher Background

Teachers should review these resources to familiarize themselves with customs associated with the Day of the Dead. Review the book recommendations, but feel free to substitute for a different Day of the Dead book: The Festival of Bones by Luis San Vicente, A Gift for Abuelita: Celebrating the Day of the Dead by Nancy Luenn, The Day of the Dead by Bob Barner. Spanish language teachers may choose to modify the lesson to meet language requirements.

Note: The process of creating the altar may be sensitive or emotional for some students. Encourage students to use only positive, constructive feedback. Circulate the room offering guidance and support.


Student Prerequisites 

Students should know where Mexico is located (review Google Map of Mexico) and general facts about Mexican culture (language, food, dress). 


Accessibility Accommodations

Modify handouts as needed and allow extra time for task completion.

  • Original Writer

    Mary Beth Bauernschub

  • Editor

    JoDee Scissors

  • Updated

    January 28, 2020

Related Resources

Article Beyond Food & Fiestas

Practical ideas for creating authentic cultural experiences for your students.

  • Language Studies
  • World Cultures

Lesson America, A Home for Every Culture

In this 3-5 lesson, students will create a class recipe book demonstrating the diverse flavors of their cultures.

  • Grades 3-5
  • Music
  • Visual Arts
  • Geography
  • History
  • World Cultures

Collection America

Discover the multicultural heritage and history of America through explorations of immigrant life, the lives of legendary pioneers like Lewis and Clark, the modern political system, and significant works of American music, including our National Anthem.

  • United States

Collection Holidays & Traditions

Explore how the arts connect with our traditions and celebrations. Haunted music and monsters are just the beginning--look here for more spooky Halloween resources. For Valentine's Day, these resources offer ways to look at the concept of love beyond the lovey-dovey. Whether as sweeping ballet choreography or tragic Shakespearean poetry, you'll explore how love can be expressed in different artistic contexts.

  • Holidays & Traditions
Kennedy Center Education Digital Learning

Eric Friedman 
Director, Digital Learning

Kenny Neal 
Manager, Digital Education Resources

Tiffany Bryant 
Assistant Manager, Audience Enrichment

Joanna McKee 
Program Coordinator, Digital Learning

JoDee Scissors 
Content Specialist, Digital Learning

Connect with us!

spacer-24px.pngyoutube.png    facebook.png    twitter.png    instagram.png    email.png

ARTSEDGE, part of the Rubenstein Arts Access Program, is generously funded by David Rubenstein.

Additional support is provided by the U.S. Department of Education.

Kennedy Center education and related artistic programming is made possible through the generosity of the National Committee for the Performing Arts and the President’s Advisory Committee on the Arts.

The contents of this Web site were developed under a grant from the U.S. Department of Education. However, those contents do not necessarily represent the policy of the U.S. Department of Education, and you should not assume endorsement by the Federal government.

Unless otherwise stated, ARTSEDGE materials may be copied, modified and otherwise utilized for non-commercial educational purposes provided that ARTSEDGE and any authors listed in the materials are credited and provided that you permit others to use them in the same manner.

© 1996-2020 John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts