Friday, October 30, 2015

Calacas y Calaveras, Oh My!

Skulls can be ofrendas (offerings), too!
(They don't have to be morbid.)
Día de los Muertos has certainly made its way into mainstream commercialism, with skulls and calacas (skeletons) adorning everything from napkins to clothing to notebooks and bags.

But, what is it really? Dia de los Muertos celebrates death as a natural part of the human experience and stems from ancient Aztec traditions. It holds that the dead would be offended by grieving and sadness, so it is better to welcome the them back into the living community to celebrate each year in a joyous occasion. Although celebrated throughout Latin America, and even into South America, the traditions of Mexico are what seem to be the most well-known here in North America.

This is the altar created as a display for our
school hallway. Wow!
Día de los Muertos is technically Dias de los Muertos, since it is celebrated over 2 days. November 1st is Día de los Angelitos, when the heaven gates open to let the deceased children (angels of infants and small children who have passed away) fly down to visit their families for 24 hours. November 2nd (Dia de los Muertos) is when the heaven gates open to allow adults who have passed away to fly down to visit their families, also for 24 hours.

Families clean the gravesites, then decorate them, often with flowers, specifically orange marigolds (cempasúchil). On the gravesite or small personal altar, they then leave ofrendas (offerings) which the deceased person enjoyed, such as favorite foods, toys, flowers, candles, photos, and other personally significant objects. Some ofrendas may be "necessities", such as water for their thirst following their journey, and coins for payment along the way.
What do you think this person may have enjoyed, by looking
at the ofrendas? 
Example of an altar. Although orange marigolds are the most
traditional flowers used, Ms. J handmade these flowers, in
gorgeous colors--definitely creating a joyous space!
My colleague, Ms. J, who created the altar and bulletin board displays for our school is not Mexican (and very few of our international students are). She is from Costa Rica, so I had to ask:
"Why did you spend so much time creating these displays if you are not Mexican, and this is not the way you celebrate in your home country of Costa Rica?"
 (She has literally spent hours upon hours after school and on the weekends preparing these displays!!)
Her response?
"We are all Latin American, and it's important as an ESL teacher to show respect for the cultures of my students. 'C' was so excited when he learned I was making this. If just one student is excited, then it's worth my time. But I also want to share about other cultures. There are so many interesting things to learn."
Quick facts for students to learn something new. Note the flags
above, also decorated with las calaveras!

We may not have mariachi bands stirring up joyous tunes for us as they do at Mexican cemeteries, but no doubt wonder and curiosity will share a dance or two as our students learn more than they imagined from Ms. J's displays.

As for the calaveras? Stay tuned for part two as we see how Ms. J creates sugar skulls!
Can't wait for the makeover!

Some lessons you might want to use for your students:
(click on the "dia de los Muertos" for the links)

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