Get Ready for Dia de los Muertos!
Day of the Dead Activity Book
By Karl Jones; illustrated by Steve Simpson
Okay, the words “dead” and “activity book” may not exactly jive in the minds of parents of young readers, but bear with me here. The cover of this book is beautifully done in a sort of vintage folk art Halloween style, but I fully admit to a bit of unease when I first picked it up and saw the title. But, we are living, and so are our young ones, in an ever more diverse society with cultural traditions of which we may be totally unaware.
And, so I am happy to say I learned something totally new when I picked up this book. Every year, MILLIONS of people worldwide celebrate a holiday called Day of the Dead or Dia de los Muertos. It really is a beautiful holiday in that it calls to mind the loved ones including family and friends who have passed away. It is held on November 1st and 2nd and really coincides with another celebration called All Souls Day held on November 2nd where the souls of those that have passed from this life are honored. It appears the Spanish conquistadores changed the original date of the feast from July and August to November so it could dovetail with All Souls Day in November. Seems every culture has its own rituals for remembering those who have been such a special part of our lives. Children love to remember, recall and tell stories and this perhaps may be a way to keep loved ones alive in their minds. Each parent knows his or her child best and how to approach the subject of death.
The festival has its roots in the Aztec and Latin American cultures. The celebration includes the building of afrendas or altars in ones home. The afrendas are even decorated with pictures of loved ones. Cemeteries are visited and offerings of special foods, sugar, candles and flowers are placed there. Some of these offerings I have to admit are a bit spooky, such as skulls, but when you look at the clothing of young people today, you find the skull to be a pervasive fashion symbol on shirts and jeans and anything else kids purchase that is trendy. And the skull is definitely at hot fad level. Not my cup of tea, I here freely admit in print!
Since this is an activity book, there are things to bake such as Sugar Skulls and Graveyard Cake and masks called calaveras that kids wear to Day of the Dead celebrations. The masks are often made of wood, and then placed on the afrendas afterward. There are plenty of activities to acquaint your young reader with this celebration such as Word Finds, Crossword Puzzles, examples for face painting, and even the guide to how to make a Papel picado, a popular Mexican craft used to make banners to decorate afrendas, streets and buildings during the Day of the Dead. The book even has pages of punch out masks for kids to decorate and use.
Hey, I bet you never knew that MILLIONS of monarch butterflies come back to Mexico in a mass migration and it is thought they are the spirits of the dead coming back for Dia de los Muertos! Did you also know the butterfly is an ancient Christian symbol of resurrection? How’s that for being beyond coincidence or as it’s termed, synchronicity?
Here’s my feeling: Halloween will soon be here. It has become a holiday in some quarters of unbelievable grimness and goriness where death-dealing costumed figures abound. Couple that with our general unease as Americans, especially around children, with the subject of death and there evolves a natural dilemma for parents on how to introduce this reality to children.
How do we allow our children to participate in ritual in the same way adults do in leave taking and remembrance of departed ones they cherish? Perhaps setting aside a special day to remember them is one way.
Whether it’s Dia de los Muertos or All Souls Day (that is the day of remembrance for all my past family members and friends) or some other method of remembrance, there is something special about having a specific time for families to recall with love those who are no longer with us, but who contributed so much to who we are and will become.