The Day of the Dead is celebrated in Mexico on November 1 and 2, All Saints' and All Souls' day. During the holidays, the people celebrate the lives of loved ones who have passed away. The celebration dates back to the Aztec culture. The Aztecs who lived in what is now Mexico at the time of the Spanish arrival celebrated their loved ones around the month of August. They believed that death was a continuation of life, which was a dream, and that one was finally awake in death. They celebrated with skulls, which they saved as trophies and used during their ritual celebration. The skulls represented death and rebirth. When the Spanish arrived, they tried to do away with the Aztec celebration, because it was a pagan ritual, and they wished for all of the Aztec people to become Catholic. However the tradition was to entrenched in the culture, and the Spaniards were unsuccessful. They then moved the ritual to All Saints' and All Souls Day to make it correspond more to Catholicism. The continued celebration of this Aztec ritual is very special, because it is a harmonious meshing of the two cultures.
Today, people decorate, make or buy sugar skulls and pan de muerto (bread of the dead), dress up, and visit the cemetery. The skull is still very prominent in the Day of the Dead. People also make altars in their homes on which they place special remembrances of their loved ones and food. It is said that the souls of the loved ones who have passed away come back and visit, taking in the aromas of their favorite foods.
In my classes, we made and decorated sugar skulls, made calacas (skeletons), made tissue paper flowers, papel picado, and painted colorful skulls on the glass of a picture frame. I taught four levels, so I had to have a different activity every year. The sugar skulls were always a big hit. I brought my big stand mixer to school and made every color of royal icing imaginable -- to order! The kids did such a great job decorating the skulls. Over the years, I saw everything from cute whimsical designs to pirates to cartoon characters to faces of our school administrators!
Spanish I students using a mold to make a sugar skull. They dried over night and we decorated the next day.
Spidey skull on hold to give a taste of icing to a friend.
A Spanish II skeleton
Working on skeletons. You see open decoration drawer in the background as well as my mixer, icing supplies, and undecorated skulls on the counter.
A few of the skeletons on the wall in my classroom.
Spanish III did reverse paintings of a skull. We did everything on the backside of the glass, starting with the black and adding color the next day.
My brother Hank painting his skull. (Yes, I taught my brothers -- for three years!)
Most of this information is left over what I learned from teaching Spanish for six years. I checked my memory on Azcentral.com, which was my favorite resource for Day of the Dead materials to use in class.