Practical ideas for creating authentic cultural experiences for your students.
- 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.
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
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.
Students should know where Mexico is located (review Google Map of Mexico) and general facts about Mexican culture (language, food, dress).
Modify handouts as needed and allow extra time for task completion.
- Play a short clip of Coco’s -“Un Poco Loco.” Ask students to share what they know about Mexico or the movie Coco. Explain to students that the purpose of this lesson is to learn about another culture. Learning about another culture’s traditions can deepen our understanding of cultural diversity.
- Ask the students what they think of, and how they might define, the words “holiday,” “celebrate,” and “tradition.” Ask students to share examples of each one. Record student responses on chart paper or an interactive board.
- Review Vocabulary with students.
- Engage students in a discussion about Halloween. Discuss what students in the class do if they observe Halloween. What do you do for Halloween? How do you dress up? Are there special events you attend? Quite a few students may not observe the holiday. Discuss the reasons for not celebrating the holiday, including religious objections.
- Discuss the history of Halloween. Explain that in ancient Celtic times (in the region that is now England, Ireland, Wales, and Scotland), Halloween was regarded as a time when the spirits of those that had died the previous year returned to Earth. The living put on masks to seek protection by hiding from the spirits. Halloween occurs on October 31st and is also called All Hallows' Eve. Explain that in the Roman Catholic religion, November 1st is known as All Saints’ Day. It is a “holy day of obligation” (a day on which Catholics are required to attend mass). It is a day that honors the saints whose birth or death anniversaries are not known. The following day, All Souls’ Day, honors all others who have died. In England, it was once the custom to give money and food to the poor on All Souls’ Day. This led to the custom of children begging for treats on Halloween.
- Tell the students that in Mexico, November 1st and 2nd are known as “El Día de los Muertos” or “Los Días de los Muertos” (Day of the Dead). During this annual event, which is a blend of Spanish Catholic traditions and native beliefs in Mexico, people create altars to honor departed relatives. Families gather items such as marigolds, the relative’s favorite food, and pictures of the person. They take these items to the graveyard and have a picnic or party on the grave. This tradition is thought to make death less frightening because it shows that you will be remembered after you have died. It also helps to console the living people who miss the deceased individual.
- Divide the class into pairs or small groups to research about Halloween and El Día de los Muertos. Use the Organizer: Comparing Cultural Holidays to compare the two holidays looking for examples of music and visual art. The students should conduct research using print and web resources like Halloween BrainPop, Halloween Britannica Kids, and Day of the Dead Britannica Kids.
- Have the groups share their research with the class. As a follow-up to this activity, note that many cultures have traditions for honoring the dead. In Afghanistan, one prepares and eats the favorite food of the deceased relative for a month after he/she died on Thursdays. Vietnamese and Koreans create shrines to honor ancestors like the altars in Mexico. Japanese Buddhists clean homes and prepare special foods for a three-day celebration of the dead in July.
- Show students the Slide: El Día de los Muertos Altar. Explain to each student group that they will be creating an altar, similar to those used on El Día de los Muertos, to honor a relative or special person who has died. Honoring and celebrating the life of a departed loved one is a way to keep that person living on in the hearts of those left behind. (Note: If the students do not personally know of a person who has died, tell them to talk to their parents or guardian about someone meaningful in their life who passed away.)
- Gather resources and set up the altar using the Creating an Altar resource. Encourage each group to individualize their altar with a variety of art supplies, including paint, colored paper, and crayons or markers. (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.)
- When students have completed their altars, have each group present their altar to the class with an explanation of the meaning of each item on the altar.
- Assess students’ knowledge with one of the following writing prompts: What is the importance of Día de los Muertos to the Mexican culture and how does it relate to Halloween? What comparisons can you draw about Halloween and Día de los Muertos?
Mary Beth Bauernschub
January 28, 2020
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