Some Christian schools in Pensacola frown on the celebration of Halloween. Another holiday that is similar, but not based upon the Devil or ghosts is Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead.
Dia de los Muertos is a Mexican holiday, that originally came from the Aztec people, who were the first inhabitants of South America. When the Spanish came and settled in what is now called Mexico, they brought the Catholic Christian faith with them. They did their best to convert the natives to Christian beliefs, but this ritual was so popular, and had been a part of the culture for so long, that they couldn’t get the people to stop doing it.
Sometimes, when you disagree about something, you have to compromise, or look for a solution that will make everyone happy. It’s called a win-sin solution, because everyone gets to win a little bit of the argument, even if they don’t win all of it. To make this disagreement a win-win situation, the Spanish settlers changed the date of Dia de los Muertos from August to November 1, so that it could be a part of the Catholic holiday, All Souls Day.
The idea behind All Souls Day and Dia de los Muertos is pretty much the same. It is a day to remember and celebrate the lives of all the dead. People wear wooden masks that look like skulls. These masks are called calacas. They spend the evening dancing in honor of their deceased relatives. The skulls symbolize death and rebirth. The people celebrate because they believe that their ancestors have moved on to another kind of life. The people believe that their ancestors come back to visit during the party.
In the city, the people celebrate in their homes. Families build altars in their homes, dedicating them to the dead. They surround these altars with flowers, food and pictures of the deceased. They light candles and place them next to the altar. They offer incense, and flowers. They play their ancestor’s favorite music, and make their favorite food.
Out in the country, the day is spent having a picnic in a cemetery. They decorate gravesites with marigold flowers and candles. They bring toys for dead children and bottles of tequila to adults. They sit on picnic blankets next to gravesites and eat the favorite food of their loved ones.
The skull is the most common symbol for this holiday. It is used as a decoration on altars, banners, costumes and cookies.
Unlike the skulls we see at Halloween, these skulls are happy. The Aztec people weren’t afraid of death. Their religion saw death as a part of life. They believed that life was a dream, and death was an awakening to what is real. Their skulls are smiling to show how happy their ancestors are, and how happy they will be someday, too. The skulls are decorated with flowers to show that they are still living, just in another way.
Children in third grade can make a skull that celebrates Dia de los Muertos, and demonstrates symmetrical balance. Symmetrical means that it is the same on both sides. If the human face is divided in two down the center of the nose, it is pretty much the same on each side.
To make this skull, you will need
- White construction paper or used file folders trimmed into rectangles
- poster paint
- Small paint brush
Fold the paper or tag board in half the long way. Using black paint, draw half of the outline of a skull on one side of the paper. Close the paper, and rub the outside to transfer the paint to the other half. Open the paper, and see the symmetrical shape. Do the same for the eyes, nose and mouth to create a complete face.
Use bright colors, and paint simple flowers all around the face. This part of the picture can be symmetrical or asymmetrical, as you wish.
Sunshine State Standards
VA.C.1.2 The student understands the visual arts in relation to history and culture.
VA.A.1.2.3 Knows the effect and functions of using various organizational elements and principles of design when creating works of art.
- The student folded the paper vertically and evenly.
- The student used the brush to make neat lines and shapes
- The student transferred the paint from one side to the other by rubbing firmly according to their physical limitations.
- The student painted colorful flowers that filled in the areas well.