Celebrating our loved ones who have passed is important for keeping their memories alive and also for grieving. Dia de los Muertos is celebrated throughout Mexico. It originates from the Aztecs as they believed the Goddess of Death helped their loved ones cross to the other side. When the Spanish arrived, they brought their belief in All Souls’ Day. These two beliefs combined into what we now know as Dia de los Muertos on November 1 and November 2.
I didn’t grow up celebrating Dia de los Muertos, but I knew about it at a very young age. In my house, we had an altar year around. My mom and aunts always had a table full of saints and pictures of deceased family members.
Now that I am a mom, I want my son to have a connection to his ancestors. I want him to know his great-grandfather was a military veteran who earned a purple heart in World War II and that his abuela came from a line of strong women.
Teaching Kids about Dia de los Muertos
In celebrating our ancestors we talk about our loved ones and share funny stories with my son. If you haven’t see the movie Coco, it’s a must-see for children. It’s also a very touching movie.
The film depicts a traditional family in Mexico. The colorful village is a replica of Guanajuato, Mexico. When I saw it for the first time, Mama Coco reminded me so much of my mother because of her white hair. I could see my mom getting that tiny as she became older.
The movie was also of special interest to my son. Not only did he learn about his Mexican traditions, but he also looked at the main character and related to him. For the first time in his life, there was a movie with a main character that looked like him and spoke his language.
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I also love reading books about Dia de los Muertos with my son. One such book is Miguel and the Grand Harmony by Matt De La Pena. Miguel loves to play the guitar just like his great grandfather, but his grandmother doesn’t want him to play the guitar. Throughout the book, guitar music follows Miguel. He finds a guitar and learns to play it against his grandmother’s wish.
I won’t give away the ending, but I will say that Mama Coco’s reaction to the music says it all! This book is a must-read for kids! And, it’s a great introduction to family traditions, spending time with our elders, and keeping our ancestors’ memories alive.
Dia de los Muertos Altars and Traditions
Generally, Dia de los Muertos involves creating an altar and placing flowers all around it. Flor de Muerto (known as Marigolds in English) are very common. You can also add picture frames, as well as the deceased’s favorite food and water. Why food and water? Because the journey to the “other side” is a long one, so the deceased need nourishment for their journey to heaven.
Sugar skulls and pan dulce (Mexican sweet bread) are also placed on the altar. Special sweet bread is often baked specifically for this time of the year. It is known as Pan de Muerto. Additionally, you can include candles, colorful table cloths, and candy. Once the altar is complete, you pray, play music, invite the family, and feast on traditional Mexican dishes. You also tell stories about your loved ones and celebrate the special moments you had with them.
Altars vary in size. Some people create larger ones, while others prefer smaller ones.
I encourage parents to talk to their children about their ancestors. Oral history is an important part of creating family traditions and memories. Teach your children to join in the building of the altar. And, if you decide to celebrate your loved ones, remember to place a little something special in front of their photo.
Feliz Dia de los Muertos!