Students Have “Hands On” Experiences with Day of the Dead Celebrations @ West Jeff
True learning takes place when students are interactive participants in instruction. It would have been much easier for teacher, Xochitil Ramirez to show a film or have students read about the holiday celebration and time honored traditions associated with Día de los muertos, or Day of the Dead. Instead, in addition to teaching the 2 ½ week unit to her foreign language students, she opened the opportunity to the rest of the school’s community to learn about the celebrated holiday which roots go as far back as the ancient Aztecs, through a series of workshops and hands on learning experiences.
Day of the Dead is actually a two day celebration from Mexico that honors deceased loved ones by paying tribute to children who have passed on November 1st and adults on November 2nd. Relatives pay homage to departed souls in recognition for the love that they have for them, and to acknowledge that they will never forget their deceased loved ones. The version of Day of the Dead that is celebrated today has been influenced by Christianity but stills hold true to most of its time honored traditions.
Ms. Ramirez had participants work together to construct an ofrenda or an offering. Students were encouraged to make their own ofrenda to represent causes or to even honor someone who is in the military. Students collected sacred objects, pictures, and the like that would represent the person or idea that they wanted to honor. Popular items in traditional ofrendas might include candles, flowers, fruit, popular foods and drinks. Special candies and pan de muerto (bread of the dead), a sweet bread, are popular treats as well. They are often made in to the shapes of skulls, skeletons or other symbols of death. Significance is placed on building the ofrenda to welcome back the departed souls with refreshments, light, and items that are familiar to them.
As the holiday approached, students were drawn by the special art work that was displayed around the school, but Ms. Ramirez thought it fitting that students should understand the significance of the art work and other aspects of the Day of the Dead, so, she offered a series of workshops which gave significance to the Mexican folk art that the students would be creating. All workshops were done after school, and students had to pre-register for them. These included a Papel Picado workshop where art was created from Mexican tissue paper. There was also a piñata and sugar skull making workshop. The groups in attendance were enthusiastic and diverse. They had the opportunity to learn about the history of another culture other than their own.
The interactive learning was well received. Students were enlightened with a broadened perspective as it relates to the history of the holiday and its culture. Ms. Ramirez wanted students to learn about Day of the Dead, its history, art, and culture, but ultimately, she did have another goal in mind. It was Ms. Ramirez’s goal to have the students reflect on what they are doing to create their own legacies of the future.