|Halloween & Day of the Dead Celebrations|
Day of the Dead and Halloween have some commonalities. They both come from early cultures' beliefs about death and both share the idea that the spirits return at that time of year. Customs around Halloween seem to stem from the idea that the spirits were malevolent (children were disguised so that they wouldn't be harmed), whereas in Day of the Dead festivities, the spirits are joyfully welcomed as family members that one hasn't seen in a year.
Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos), celebrated between October 31st and November 2nd, is a celebration in Mexico where the people remember and honor their deceased loved ones. Though it may sound gloomy or morbid, it's not. It's a festive and colorful holiday. Families visit cemeteries, decorate the graves and spend time there - in the presence of their deceased friends and family members. They also make elaborately decorated altars (sometimes called ofrendas) in their homes to welcome the spirits.
While there are many fancy and extravagant costumes, decorations and activities for the upcoming Halloween and Day of the Dead celebrations many of the older traditions and ideas are still as fun, enjoyable and meaningful for kids as ever.
These are easy and fun to make and young children are able to participate. Use clear food handling gloves. Make tiny slits at the end of each finger in the glove and push a candy corn into each slit, pointy side first. Half of the candy should stick out the end. Fill glove with popcorn, tie with a twisty or in a knot and you have a gnarly witch’s hand treat that kids of all ages love!
Gross Body Parts
A fun Halloween party activity and can also be done with older trick or treaters. Place the following foods separately into an opaque container (carved out pumpkin, plastic cauldron, paper bag). Have each child reach into the container, without being able to look inside, and feel the contents. Depending on the age of the participants, the adults can elaborate on what each item is. Make up some of your own as well. Easy to set up and kids love this gross activity.
Several whole peeled grapes
1-2 cups cooked spaghetti
2 cups jello
Cooked, but still firm whole cauliflower
Several small whole carrots
A couple of spoonfuls of raisins
Creating a Day of the Dead Altar
Making a Day of the Dead altar can be a way for you to honor the life of someone who is important to you, or remember your ancestors. You can make it as simple or elaborate as you want to. The whole family can participate and the process evokes sharing memories of loved ones that the younger members may have known or not known. The alter can be set up on a table, mantel or any special spot in your home. Typical items to include on your alter are a picture of the relative or friend if available, candles (they don’t have to be lit), incense, a cup of water, flowers and fruit. Members of your family can add things to the alter that the person enjoyed in life. Children may also want to put things on the alter that they want to share; a baby tooth that has come out, a piece of artwork.
Sugar skulls are a traditional decoration for Day of the Dead altars. This is a great activity to do with kids, particularly if you explain the holiday to them and make a small altar in your home. Sugar skulls can be purchased already made and ready to decorate or you can make them yourself ahead of time. www.mexicansugarskull.com is a great website for information on making sugar skulls yourself, as well as a resource for purchasing the molds and other Day of the Dead decorations. This site includes beautiful photographs of sugar skulls and ideas for decorating them. Remember that making the sugar skulls themselves takes some time and it is usually best to make them a day or two ahead of time.
The skulls can be decorated any way that the maker wants to. Use a recipe for royal icing and mix up black and vibrant colors to begin your decorating. Often the mouth, teeth and eyes are outlined with royal icing. Flowers, hats, etc can be painted on with the icing. The skulls can be completely decorated in icing or other items can be added; glitter, buttons, yarn, feathers, you name it. If handled with care your decorated Day of the Dead skull can last for a very long time.
There are many books available at Bookshop Santa Cruz on Day of the Dead, altars and children’s books about the holiday. Enjoy the upcoming celebrations!