Teresa Calderon’s Grade 9 Spanish class put together a special luncheon to honour the Latin American holiday Day of the Dead. Last Friday, the students decorated their classroom with candles, skulls and colourful squashes, before inviting other students to visit and enjoy traditional foods they prepared.
“Here, when we celebrate the dead, it’s sad, but they celebrate their lives,” says Anna.
The Day of the Dead is a colourful and cheerful occasion in Spanish culture, because death is not perceived as an ending but a moving on. The students compare the holiday to both Halloween and Christmas. Halloween, because some celebrators wear costumes decorated with shells to “wake the dead,” and Christmas, because it’s also a day of gathering together.
“It’s cool to understand Spanish culture,” says Grade 9 student Danielle. “On Halloween, we dress up and get candy; they honour the dead — but in some ways we’re celebrating the same thing.”
As well as being a blend of different holidays, the Day of the Dead is also a blend of cultures, as the holiday is celebrated with variations in many countries around the world. “It’s interesting to see how cultures intertwine,” says Gita. The students based their celebration largely on how the holiday is honoured in Mexico, where it is a major event.
Through their research into the ceremony, the students learned much about the culture behind the holiday as well as the meaning behind the images and objects involved. Skulls remind people of the certainty of death, and the four candles, placed in the shape of a cross, act as a compass to help the dead find their way home.
“You understand the language better when you understand the culture,” say the students.
Many other students dropped in to enjoy the food, including the “bread of the dead,” which features two strips of dough signifying bones. The class themselves enjoyed educating the visitors about their decorating choices, including pictures of one student’s great-grandparents.