Students at Ross Lower School recently learned about El Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) in Spanish class, and on October 29, grades kindergarten through six celebrated the Mexican holiday by acting out the traditional rituals and “visiting” a mercado mexicano al aire libre (Mexican market).
To prepare for the Day of the Dead, Lower School Spanish Teacher Barbara Gaias taught the students about the history of the holiday, which is observed throughout Mexico and around the world to remember friends and family members who have died. They learned about ceremonies and traditions such as dressing up as skeletons, treats shaped like calavaras (skulls), performing activities that the deceased enjoyed, and burning el copal (a form of incense), as well as associated Spanish vocabulary words.
With the expertise of Lower School Science Teacher Bryan Smith, the fifth and six graders baked typical pan de muerto (bread of the dead), while practicing the corresponding Spanish words of the recipe's ingredients and learning about the scientific properties of the yeast.
During the observances, students gathered on the lawn by the Lower School farm, where Señora Gaias had staged the area with a display of the skulls decorated by each class and various items used in the rituals, such as a water pitcher, sombreros, and Monarch butterfly wings that the students later attached to their backs while they performed the Mexican Hat dance on a pathway lined with petals and candles. At the Mexican market they collected items for their Day of the Dead ceremonies, including water, salt, marigolds, maize, and papel picado (perforated paper).
Students also sat on the ground in a circle on a Mexican woven blanket and passed around a skull symbolizing a dead loved one, while sharing something of note about their own families.
“The visit to the market and reenactment of the Day of the Dead rituals were key to helping the students experience the cultural importance of the holiday and expanding their Spanish vocabulary, and we had so much fun along the way,” Sra. Gaias said.